The (Real) Skeleton in Our Closet

For the past 85 years, my family has been handing down the skeletal remains of someone we call Felix.

While this may sound sinister or downright peculiar, let me assure you that Felix holds a cherished position in our family. He’s a silent but reliable teacher and a master at imparting lessons of impermanence — someone who is just plain good to have hanging around.

Felix — affectionately named by my grandfather, George Becker Sr. — was born around 1880 and was about 17 years old when he died. His cause of death is unknown, though my grandmother always maintained he had been struck by a Model T Ford.

Just how did we come to possess the remains of Felix?

My grandfather was a young boy when his father was thrown from a horse-drawn wagon after a practical joker startled the horse. He suffered a traumatic head injury that kept him from meaningful employment for the rest of his life. Coming from a family in which industriousness was the paramount virtue, my grandfather studied hard and eventually borrowed money and played semi-pro football in order to attend Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia. Around 1925 in a gross anatomy seminar, he and his classmates were issued human skeletons to use as study aides.

Felix’s body had already been tidied up by the time my grandfather received him. Sinew had been stripped from the bone; his skull had been horizontally sawed so that the skull cap could be removed; his jawbone was fitted with a spring to keep it from falling off; and a nice clean hole was drilled into the top of his head so that his wired frame could be hung from a rack.

To continue reading, the full story of Felix appears in my book Heartwood: The Art of Living with the End in Mind

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2 responses to “The (Real) Skeleton in Our Closet”

  1. Nice! Congrats on getting this published on Salon, it’s a great story. I don’t have a strong opinion on whether to keep Felix or not, I think if ever there should come a good time to give him a rest, you guys will know it. Just listen to your gut feeling on it.

  2. Susan Kayne says:

    You never cease to amaze me. Wonderful story. Attachment of the sentimental kind is a very human trait. I vote for keeping Felix around for generations to come.