By Bob Spiwak
Are you familiar with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? If not, it will have a mild bearing on what follows.
Briefly, the amendment allows for freedom of religion, speech, the press and peaceful assembly, and provides the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.
The mother of my children died last year, and in her will she wished to be cremated and have her ashes spread at either Yellowstone or Glacier National Park. The children opted for Glacier, and set a date this summer to do the deed and affect closure with a simple family remembrance.
My son-in-law, whose profession involves intercourse with all levels of governance, from local to federal, writes: “I had seen something somewhere that scattering of ashes in the national parks was regulated, as in get permission. I looked into this online and found [that] the park had an activity permit that included spreading of ashes with what appeared to be an associated fee. I could find out how to pay the fee, but not what the fee might be.
“So my first interaction with the park was, ‘what’s the fee?’”
Answer: no fee for scattering ashes, but yes, you do need a permit and you need to have it on your person when you scatter the ashes.
“So, I fill out the permit application. It is titled ‘Application for Special Use Permit – Spreading of Ashes.’
“First question on form after filling out all of one’s contact info is, ‘proposed activity?’
“They want to know your cell number, where, when, alternate dates and are you exercising any First Amendment rights?
“Permit arrives, six paragraphs of approval, where, when, alternate dates, rules governing approval, requirement of reporting that the ashes have in fact been scattered.
“Then finally, closing with ‘I am very sorry to hear of your loss.’”
I have a daughter named Whitney. When she became a divorcee, she applied with Social Security to have her last name changed back to Spiwak. She filled out the several forms and turned them in to Social Security. When her card came back, it read “Shitney Spiwah.” Being a real good speller, she recognized something was amiss and contacted the agency, suggesting she be given a new card with the correct spelling. She said she doubted she had chosen Shitney as her first name and we agreed.
Social Security was not going to have her impersonating the real Whitney, so she was told she had to bring them her birth certificate or other valid identification. Not having access to the birth record, she brought her Washington driver’s license with her picture, along with physical description. This was not adequate, despite her trying to convince the clerk that a driver’s license was the usual vehicle of determining one’s questionable age.
But no, she needed another means of identification.
When she related this episode we howled with laughter, at the same time realizing she was now persona non grata with Social Security.
I don’t know if this was cause and effect, but I sent a letter to the commissioner of Social Security, a new person just installed in the job. I explained the situation to her, emphasizing that our daughter’s name was something we agonized over before her birth and whether we wanted to call her Shitney. Ultimately we agreed on Whitney, and also not to change her last name from Spiwak to Spiwah, as was on her card.
It all worked out ultimately, and she is again whom she was when she was not, according to Social Security. This was very helpful because otherwise I might be writing this with a pseudonym: SpiWAH does not rhyme with CheWAK, and that was important to me.