Barry Saunders

Don’t wait too late to pick your plot

“Boy get up outta that bed. You’re gonna be late for your own funeral.”

That was my daily, de facto wake up call when I was a kid and my aunt was yelling at my perpetually tardy self.

I wasn’t late for my own funeral Friday, but I was for my meeting on buying a cemetery plot for when the time cometh for the dirt nap.

Jeffery Raustis is the family services manager – “a licensed cemeterian,” he said – at Oak Grove Memorial Gardens in Durham. He was anxious to talk about exciting offers at their mausoleum addition. I wasn’t anxious to talk about graves, vaults and bronze markers, but figured what the hell.

While sitting at home minding my business last week, the telephone rang. It was a man with an Oak Grove sales pitch: how’d I like to get a two-for-one deal on a plot?

Two-for-one? Wow. As just about any salesman knows, we Americans are suckers for a BOGO – buy one, get one free – sale. Thus, even a BOGO-for-when-you-go sale was morbidly alluring. Would I like to come in and talk about buying a plot, a vault and a marker, the salesman asked? Oh boy, would I!

“I would do you a big disservice to tell you you need anything more than a basic burial vault,” Raustis began his desk the next day. “No one wants to talk about death until they’ve had a near-death experience or someone they know dies. I don’t pull up into the parking lot and there’s a line of people asking to buy spaces, but the earlier you address death, the earlier you can start living your life.”

More than trying to get a deal and pick out an optimal spot in the garden – preferably one overlooking a strip club parking lot, which they don’t have – I was interested in how they got my phone number. This was, you see, the second call I’ve received in recent years asking if I were ready to reserve a subterranean room with no view.

Does somebody know something I don’t know? Did they see me eat that extra pork chop and figure: “He won’t last long like that?” The day before receiving the cemetery call, I’d written a column about the obituary of a man whose family requested that, in memoriam, y’all don’t vote for Hillary.

“Just a coincidence,” Raustis assured: Companies such as his in businesses such as his buy lists of names from companies that sell them. Eventually, he said, everybody will get a cold call. So, ask not for whom the phone tolls: It tolls for thee. Or will eventually.

Talking with Raustis, you realize there are definite advantages to reserving an eternal resting place ahead of time. The savings were substantial – almost a third – and in the midst of grief is not the time to make a major purchase.

A major purchase is precisely what this is, because by the time you pay for space, vault and marker, you’re already several thousand dollars in the hole – and that doesn’t even include costs for the undertaker and strippers.

Say what?

Hey, don’t look at me like that: China’s Ministry of Culture and police are trying to put a lid on the practice of strippers literally dancing on people’s graves. Lap-dancing last rites are meant to entice more mourners which, the Wall Street Journal recently noted in a story on the decades-old practice, is seen as a harbinger of good fortune in the afterlife.

Raustis did not give me a hard-sell, didn’t try to convince me – other than with a reasoned presentation of compelling facts – to pull the trigger on a deal. That doesn’t mean that some cemeterians don’t.

The owner of the cab company for which I used to drive in Rockingham, Dewey “Boss Hogg” Edens, lamented to me one night that his wife was pestering him to make arrangements ahead of time because a certain funeral director was pestering her.

“I ain’t even sick,” Boss Hogg – a name he proudly embraced – said: He didn’t care what happened to his body after he’d breathed his last. They could just toss him out the back door into the yard, he said.

Do more discerning people request certain spots, I asked Raustis, such as under a tree? “Everybody wants a tree – until the roots start shooting up,” he said.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or