One reason to have other people help you move, other than the ease in effort, is because you'll get rid of more stuff. It’s much easier to get rid of someone else’s things, though they’re indistinguishable to the outsider from our own.

My family and I were spending Easter Sunday helping my grandma pack up every thing she'd accumulated in 32 years of living in the same house. My grandpa had died half-a-year before and she was moving out of the single-story, white-vinyl-sided house on Silver Lake Drive. The memory of my grandfather could be felt so strongly in every tree he'd planted, in the fireplace he'd built, and the walls he'd painted, that we understood Grandma's decision to leave it behind. She no longer wanted to be confronted with his absence in every recliner, sweater drawer, or Iowa Hawkeyes coffee cup.

So far, we'd thrown out more plastic pumpkin buckets than we could count and trucked loads of Yonkers’ sale-clothes to the Goodwill. Some things, we saved. Costume jewelry and baseball cards were stowed away to be redistributed in Grandma's final will and testament, along with Avon bottles, National Geographics, Western romance novels, Precious Moments, and piles of embroidered tea-towels. We packed and saved these because they were important enough for her to purchase, store, and care for. We would help our grandma carry these things to another place where she would likely never look at or use most of it again.

For most items–faded towels, dull scissors, evaporated lotions, poker decks with missing cards, rusted fishing lures–we didn't even ask; we just tossed or donated before Grandma could take a second look. Other things gave us some trouble–the threadbare Minnie Mouse swimsuit that had been passed down from grandkid to grandkid, or the Farmer Says toy that never ceased to amuse as its animal sounds became more and more warped with age–but they had to go.

Working on the darkly varnished bookshelf in the living room, I used the Sunday paper to wrap a bronze cow, folded the velvet stand holding up a portrait of the whole family in Santa hats, tucked a monogrammed Bible in a box amid plastic flowers and crystal candlesticks. I was lifting the trophy my grandpa had won in an an animal husbandry contest when, amid the doilies, self-help books, and glass angels, I found her: Belle, the family poodle, ashes stored in a flowered tin.

I couldn’t just pack her in with the carved wooden ducks. I consulted my cousin Lindsey and my mother who were on their knees in the kitchen going through the non-perishables.

“Need any marinara?” Lindsey said, surrounded by grocery items purchased without a thought to what was already owned. In a mandala spread around her were a dozen cans of beans, Dinty Moore beef stews, glass jars of pasta sauce, and bags of brittle noodles. “What’s that?” she looked at the red tin in my hands, “Cookies?”

I showed her the black flowered tin, labeled with masking tape and pen in the tight loops of Grandma’s well practiced cursive: "Belle McKinley."

My mom hadn’t been paying attention. She reached for the tin and began prying it open.

"Wait!" I yelled. " I think it's Belle. I think they put Belle in a cookie tin."

Unbeknownst to me, many dog cremains are presented to their owners in these colorful containers the size of half a loaf of bread. The crematorium processes the animals all together in a big oven and burns them down to a purplish ash and bone fragment mixture, which is scooped into cheap tin “urns.” The container is then labeled with the pet’s name, and the package is sold back to the owners.

We found Grandma sorting linen holiday napkins at the dining room table. Solemnly, we presented her with the beloved Belle.

“Go dump her out,” Grandma said, hardly glancing up from her napkins. She informed us that the vet charges you more if you don’t want the ash mixture to include other pets’ remains, which, she added, was worth the extra fifty bucks.

Mortified at her callousness to the fate of Belle's eternal rest, Lindsey and I gathered our younger cousins for a proper memorial service. Tired of packing, they were happy to oblige. Singing Amazing Grace (the only hymn we all knew the words to), we carried the ashes of the white standard poodle down a well-trodden path, past the duck nest and beached yellow canoe, to the lake we'd all learned to swim in.

My cousins and I were sad to see the property go. We’d miss the red painted porch where, with a bulky VHS camera, I'd directed rap videos deriding elementary school, and where Lindsey’s older brother Andy and I had toddled around in our underpants, hands, mouths, and bellies sticky with watermelon. It was in this house, under the kitchen table, where I'd spoken my first complete sentence, Andy you're driving me crazy.

We'd grown up here, pretending the basement’s orange shag carpet was lava and battling with Star Wars figurines leaving Bib Fortuna–the pale, shark-toothed politician that Grandma had two of, for some reason–for last. Now, helping Grandma move, along with Belle’s memorial, were just another few memories to pack up and put away with the rest.

I ceremoniously carried Belle’s remains down the back steps, my younger cousins trailing behind, giggling, nervous, just as when Andy and I’d taught them how to launch into the dark lake from the oak stump with the rope swing.

After our procession to the lake, we stood on the trucked-in playground sand and realized no one had much to say. We slapped at mosquitoes and stared at the tin container while carp gulped cottonwood seeds on the water's black surface. I was the oldest and the only one who really remembered the dog, so I said some words on her obliging personality, especially when it came to being dressed in human clothes. She looked particularly good in Grandma’s red winter hats and blue felt mittens. For the last few years of her life, other than her morning, afternoon, and evening bathroom trips, the dog had barely moved. She smelled like a mixture of overripe bananas and squirrel, I said, and her milky cataracts had reminded me of an empty-headed oracle’s. My cousins nodded. Lindsey said Amen.

I cautiously pried the tin open only to find another layer of containment–a yellowing zip lock bag packed to the brim with lavender dust.

“I hope we don’t find a tooth,” Lindsey said as I attempted to unzip the baggie. The aged plastic had hardened, and instead of neatly unzipping, it cracked and tore. A puff of dust particles small enough to breathe floated up out of the bag.

As Belle’s molecules combined with the dinosaurs' and other things long dissolved into our air, I pinched the baggie by its bottom corners and flung the ashes out over the lake. The bundle of ash left the bag in one gust. I panicked a little as some of the cloud alighted on my shoe and I fell backwards trying to get out of its way, landing on a wet pile of leaves and rotting mulberries.

I looked up at my wide-eyed younger cousins, who couldn't tell if something hilarious or terrifying had just happened.


Many philosophers have something to say about possessions, and none of them, it seems, advise acquisition.

"It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly," said Bertrand Russell. But how else might we remember my grandfather and his cow competitions, or our days warring with action figures on the plush white carpet that had never touched the bottom of a shoe, or old blind Belle laying like a rug in the vestibule?

"Bye pood,” Lindsey said, shaking out the rest of the ashes into the sand. It’s true that time really does dissolve the sorrow that accompanies loss and turns it into… what? Perhaps just something easier to smile about as the wind takes it. The ceremony had been as thrilling as watching someone dump out a bag of dirt, and we all had laughed at that.

Heidi McKinley is an MFA candidate at the University of New Orleans. Her work has appeared in Milkfist, Typehouse, Mind Magazine and elsewhere. She rides bikes a lot and is a light sleeper.