Polly & Peru


Like Polly, I just LOVE to travel. I’ve been traveling a lot over the past few years, mainly for work as my freelance photography business has blossomed. But sometimes you get a little road-weary. You come home from a long trip, or a long series of back-to-back trips, and realize you have no weekend plans; and really nobody waiting for you back home. You come and go, like a stranger walking through an empty house at night while everyone sleeps. Just passing through…

Many of my friends have left Austin over the past few years. Even before my business took off, I had a lot of friends spread out all over the U.S. and scattered around the world. And so it was refreshing to hear from an old friend, still living in Austin, who I hadn’t seen in five years. In the age of social media, it’s funny how you can seem to interact with someone on a regular basis and yet really not interact with them at all. It’s all kind of a modern-day illusion.

I love how you can be thrust into a conversation with someone you haven’t seen in years and, if you’re kindred spirits, just kind of pick up where you left off. Conversation at one point turned to life’s deeper questions, like who will take care of us when we’re older, seeing as how neither of us plans to have children of our own. For my friend, that question had long been on his heart after taking care of Polly in her twilight years. Would we end up in the same boat?

I used to dog sit a lovely gentle giant. He was an old English sheep dog. The last time I saw him, just before my trip to Peru, the poor guy couldn’t get up by himself. I had to help him up, lifting his heavy body while his legs struggled beneath him to find anchor in the floor and eventually stand up. On one occasion he soiled himself from the effort and I calmly wiped down the mess and hosed him off outside. More than anything, it made me sad, because that’s what my friend and I had been discussing just a few days earlier.

I thought of all these things as I opened the urn and spread Polly’s ashes at the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. To my assistant, who was traveling with me that day, it all seemed like a fun little novelty. But to me it felt deeper than that. Friendship is funny. Here I was spreading the ashes of someone I never had the pleasure of meeting. But I was doing it for my friend. And I realized how interconnected we all really are. And now I’m making an effort to reach out to people I haven’t talked to in years because life really is too short. As one of my favorite authors once wrote, “Beyond a certain age, sincerity ceases to feel pornographic.”

Photo & Post by: Al Argueta



The day she won the lotto!


Polly and I always started our visits off over a glass of diet coke and scratch off lotto tickets. This was the closest I got to recreating her days of poker playing and whiskey shots. Although she did request on a few occasions for me to sneak her in a small bottle of Jack. Her Dr. didn’t seem to oppose the idea if in moderation.

Lotto scratch off tickets were not the norm for Polly, she was a poker gal, but loved the excitement of having a chance to win big. It was always a great kick start to funny conversations. Where we would go, what we would buy, nutty things we might do with our winnings, typical day dreaming. One day we won $50 bucks! As you can see from my photo, I was a bit overly excited. And yes, she is sticking her tongue out. That was Polly’s signature “I’m excited pose”. All she wanted was indigo blue pants from Sears. Odd request, but God bless her commitment to Sears (Polly obsession with Sears is an entirely different story). We continued our visit and I left an hour later pondering if indigo blue pants from Sears was a thing and how the hell I was going to get them.

The following day I received 3 phone calls and 1 very agitated voicemail from an attending nurse at Polly’s facility. “Mr. Butler, can you please call the nurses station or come to the facility when you get a chance. Polly believes she won $100,000 on a lottery ticket, that YOU gave her, and is demanding for you to come help her move. She did not win anything and is very confused. She is arguing with the staff as she believes we are trying to steal her money. Please contact me asap”. My heart sank. I knew without further details exactly what happened. I accidently left behind another lotto ticket that looked like a crossword puzzle. She loved newspaper crossword puzzles, so I assumed this would be a hit. Unfortunately, she didn’t understand the rules. She saw 16 complete words and bypassed the step where you must scratch off 14 hidden letters to validate the words to win. In her mind, she had won BIG and was moving on up in the world.

I made it to Polly around 3pm, she was nestled up in her bed, eating pudding with one hand and had her lotto ticket death gripped in the other. Have you ever watched YouTube videos where people give “fake” winning scratch of tickets to their family? They’re assholes, and that’s exactly how I felt. It took a few minutes to unravel the confusion and break the news that she didn’t win the jackpot. Her response was unforgettable. “Ehh, probably for the best, I never was too fond of the rich people I knew. Anyhow, I got you to come back and see me twice in one week, so that’s a win. Also, I changed my mind, I don’t want indigo blue pants, I would prefer a indigo blue tank top with flowers”.

Polly taught me how to accept life’s disappointments. For her, she lost a $100k but was still getting a pretty new outfit from Sears - Life was good!

Post & Photo by: Cody Butler



Life's A Beach


When booking an exotic beach holiday far from the clutches of everyday life, Zanzibar is as good as it gets. Just 6 degrees from the equator, and 45 miles from mainland Tanzania, is where Polly decided to work on her tan. It was also her last hoorah in Africa, before the airport incident…

We took a tiny plane to this archipelago, situated in the Indian Ocean, to explore its rich cultural history (British and Portuguese and Sultans--oh, my!) as well as the main island's natural beauty. After wandering around the shops in Stone Town, we traveled to the northernmost tip, Nungwi, where Polly enjoyed watching the teal tide drift out and back in each day. It was there that I scattered her remaining ashes…her urn donning a sarong made from one of her dresses back home. And a little red hat in honor of the Red Hat Society

As we waited to depart from Tanzania the following evening, my husband and I heard our names over the airport intercom. We tracked down an official who immediately separated us, instructing me to sit in the waiting area while interrogating my other half. Polly’s urn had set off alarms as she passed through their X-ray scanner, the shape and metal shell mistaken for something more serious. When my husband tried to explain that we had just spent our honeymoon scattering her ashes on Kilimanjaro, and the Ngorongoro Crater, and finally a beach in Zanzibar, they were incredulous:

“There is a person in that metal jar?” the woman in uniform asked. 

“Well…there was,” he replied. 

“I want to look inside,” she insisted. 

My husband carefully unscrewed the small urn and tilted it toward the official.

“See? Just some powder.”

The official, amazed, stared into the tiny opening as if it contained the secret of life!

(Photo & post: Barbara P.)



The Cat Lady

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

I scattered Polly's ashes from my open passenger window, toward the lioness and her three cubs lazing in the grass, but as a mighty wind blew across the savanna...she rushed right back into the vehicle, onto our driver's lap. (He didn't seem to notice.) 

We spent a full day in the Ngorongro Crater, which translates as "Gift of Life," named by the Maasai people who live in the surrounding area. The crater itself resulted from a volcanic explosion 3 millions years ago and holds 25,000 large animals, as a sort of eco-cradle. After a bumpy drive down to its grassy center, our guide cut the engine and told my husband and me to stand up soak it all in: wildebeests grunting loudly, water buffalo staring rudely, zebras showing off their stripes, black rhinos (only 37 remain) trying not to go extinct, elephants swinging their trunks, hippos hanging in the get the idea.

The animal kingdom in all its glory. What better creature to spot but the king of the kingdom, and his queen, and their cubs. We pulled alongside a litter of big kitties and I quietly placed Polly on the roof of the vehicle, holding my breath as I focused my camera on her safari hat, and one very large cat posing behind her. Thunderclouds were rolling in and the wind was really picking up. My husband was terrified about her rolling off the truck. After a few shots, I carefully grabbed her and sat down. The rain was starting to pelt our open vehicle, the wind was growing stronger. The lions were beginning to stir. It was now or never: I quickly unscrewed her urn and sprinkled her remains toward the majestic animals. Just then, a gust lifted her up, and sucked her back in through the driver-side window. But for just a moment, Polly was outside with those lions, one with the animal kingdom.                

(Photo & Post: Barbara P.)



Greetings From The Roof Of Africa!

Mt. Kilimangaro summit 

Mt. Kilimangaro summit 

Polly made her way to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, on January 18th of this year. The incredibly challenging push to the summit began at midnight in 15-degree weather, climbing up boulders and scree in the starry blackness, until reaching the highest point (8 hours later) known as Uhuru: Swahili for “Freedom”. I decided to bring Polly on our honeymoon for two reasons:  

  1. I figured she would enjoy the view.
  2. I needed her to get me up that mountain! 

Though I’m a yoga / Pilates nut, I’m a New Yorker at heart and the great outdoors for me means Shakespeare in the Park. I was nervous about this trek. If not for acute mountain sickness than the slim possibility of hypothermia. Or cerebral edema. Or just a seriously sucky migraine. But if only 50% of climbers make it to the actual summit, what better marital metaphor for two newlyweds kicking off their lives together? Bringing Polly on our Honeymoon was a no-brainer: it meant making it to the top, not just for myself or my husband, but for her. And on that beautiful morning, as the sun began to peak through the cloud cover, he and I hugged each other and snapped photos of the sky as it softened with light. And Polly took in the world at 19,341 feet.

(Photo & Post: Barbara P.)



The Day I Met Polly

Rocking it at "The Home" after 30 minutes of scratching off lotto tickets and eating chocolate

It was in the late spring of 2013 my dear friend Kyle, a physical therapist, invited me to come visit the rehab and long term care facility where he worked.  He had shared with me so many wonderful, funny, and sometimes heart wrenching stories about the residents he assisted. I knew his experiences with this population, primarily the elderly, shaped his humble and loving demeanor.  Struggling with my own deficiencies in loneliness and less than selfless attitude, I was envious of his wisdom and outlook on life. I was grateful for the invitation and possibility to meet the characters that impacted his life in such a profound way.  

It didn’t take long before my introduction to the infamous Polly was made.  We entered the room and her face immediately lit up at Kyle’s presence.  I was greeted with a side-glance of hesitation and, “Who are you?” Upon the assurance that I wasn’t a doctor or nurse there to perform tests, but rather Kyle’s friend, Polly eased her doubt and continued on in friendly banter telling Kyle that he needed to shave his beard, as he was looking rather homeless and unkept. This was her nature: to be motherly, direct, and always honest. Before long, Kyle moved on to the next patient but at my request, I decided to stay back.

I can’t recall all of the conversations we had that day but the emotions from our first meeting are still vivid.

I was anxious about being left in a room with a stranger that was elderly, fragile, and unfamiliar.

I was nervous about how to engage someone who rarely had anyone to talk to, but had so much to say.

I was empathetic to the fact that she was so alive, but yet confined to a small shared room with no realistic future of leaving.

I was sad thinking about her loneliness as I faced my own fears and depression around growing old and alone.

From the fist time we met, an instant bond was formed and unbeknownst to us both, a void was soon to be filled. Compared to Polly, I had 5 less decades on understanding life, however we faced very similar troubles and fears.  I knew this was the start of more than just a friendship, but a journey. We had come into each other’s lives for a reason. Over the next 4 years that purpose would become more understood as we faced the trials of life, death, and what happens after – together.

By Cody Butler



What Is The Traveling Urn?

Whistler, Canada

Outfit:  Hat made from her favorite Sears Pjs, skis from her old chase bank card, and poles from sewing needles

It is a symbol of Polly’s spirit. And a little home for her ashes. There are several Polly urns, or as I call them, her outfits. In each of her travel photographs she proudly stands 2 inches tall in her tiny cast-iron container, often adorning accessories made from her past belongings. And though Polly's urn returns home each time, a part of her is left behind to commemorate her far-reaching adventures.

When Polly died, she left behind a small closet of clothes, a few pieces of costume jewelry, a makeshift journal, and her bible. She had few worldly possessions but could fill an entire house with her personality. With only $1200 dollars to her name, it would’ve been a stretch to pay for the cost of a proper funeral.  At that point only the nursing staff, Kyle, and three others knew she even existed. A lonely and rarely visited grave site just wasn't an option.

Cremation seemed to be the most plausible solution. At first, it was basic thinking, one urn to spread the ashes at a small intimate service. However, upon discovering that cremation only cost $800, there would be money left over for other expenses. So as any sensible person would do, I went on an urn shopping spree. After purchasing one large urn, four mini 2-inch travel urns, two biodegradable turtle water urns, and three of the most awful floral-pattern cardboard travel tubes later, it all came full circle. I decided she would travel the world, with me, and whoever else would host her pocket size new home. Polly was about to have her wish of being a part of the world she so desperately missed.

This project is an opportunity for myself--and for every contributor on this site--to travel the world with Polly. Each story posted, and each picture taken, is by someone who felt inspired to bring her along on their own exciting life adventure. Perhaps you will be her next travel companion!

The Traveling Urn is more than just a blog though, it is a journey: for me, for those who knew her, and for you, the reader. It is a heartfelt, sometimes humorous, reminder that death is often misunderstood in our culture because it is simply too big and mysterious (and scary) to ponder. It's my hope that her memory and influence will be shared with each trip taken, every ash that is spread, and each conversation it may spark about life, love, and the mark we make in this world even after we’re gone.

By Cody Butler (Photo: Lance B.)




Death By Bear Mauling

Denver, Colorado  Outfit: hiking sweeter made from the sleeve of one of her old tshirts

Denver, Colorado

Outfit: hiking sweeter made from the sleeve of one of her old tshirts

One of my most selfish moments was not visiting Polly for nearly a month. I was going through a break up, experiencing work changes, and having one hell of a pity party.  Meanwhile, Polly sat patiently in her room, reading her trashy love novels, undergoing breathing treatments, and sleeping. During week four of my absence I received a call: 

“Mr. Butler, Polly requested that someone call you as she assumed you had, um, well, died. Her words, not mine.” 


“Um, no, I’m fine, is everything ok with Polly”?  

I didn’t even hear her answer—the selfish truth was too busy slapping me hard across the face. I had abandoned my friend and she couldn’t fathom how I would be so selfish. Therefore, I must have died.

When I entered the room she looked up from her book and gave a huge sigh: “THANK GOD you’re not dead. I read last week in the newspaper that a man was mauled to death by a bear while camping. It happened about the time you normally come to see me, and I know you like camping, so I was so worried when you didn’t show up! I was like, what an awful way to go – killer bears!” 

I couldn’t help but laugh, though at the same time, admitting I was too busy and just forgot, was far worse than a bear attack.

In November of 2016 I took Polly bear hunting in Colorado (well, more like bear gazing, but still risky). It was my way of saying that I was sorry for being a selfish jerk that one time. And that I would never forget again.


(Photo & Post: Cody Butler)


What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas

Las Vegas, Nv

Outfit: Diamonds, feathers, and her favorite bracelet = SHOWGIRL

Vegas, the one place you can be and do anything you want! I'm confident Polly would have loved Vegas as much as I do.  Wild nights spent gambling, drinking, and dancing till the wee hours of the morning.  A place where you can make memories--or drink enough to forget them. 

And from what Polly told me, she loved to own the dance floor. She once described visiting the officers clubs (special military bar) in her heyday, where her moves were often considered too "scandalous and provocative," and would lead to her being kicked out, as the "other women were just jealous of the attention." On one occasion, after being dismissed from the bar, she decorated a well-known officer's car with condom balloons. A jail-able offense in that era. Hats off to you, Polly! 

Not to worry, because a sizzling gal and her vivacious moves cannot be stopped. Polly found an alternative to the "stiff and boring" officers bar: underground gay clubs! This was more her style, where could be a free spirit without any judgement. I imagine that a modern day gay club would be quite an experience for Polly, but I could totally see her pushing her way onto a box and dancing until the lights turned on..

To say the least, Vegas delivered that weekend. But as they say: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Even a piece of Polly. 

(Photo & Post: Cody Butler)



A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Paris, France: The Louvre  Outfit: The hat may or may not have been "borrowed"  from a doll shop 

Paris, France: The Louvre

Outfit: The hat may or may not have been "borrowed"  from a doll shop 

Picture-perfect in Paris:

Loving - Beautiful - Adventurous - Happy - Accepting - Grateful - Caring - Appreciative - Blessed - Thoughtful - Abundant - Kind - Creative - Compassionate - Truthful - Empathetic - Generous - Independent - Charming - Inspirational - Motivational - Optimistic - Nurturing - Witty - Reassuring - Wise - Supportive - Vulnerable - Warm - Positive - Open Hearted - Wholehearted - Modest - Enlightening - Genuine - Respected - Sweet - Engaging - Welcoming - Youthful - Spirited - Intelligent - Intuitive - Hopeful - Friendly - Enlightened - Fulfilled - Altruistic - Vibrant....  

As Polly would say "Close enough, you get the point"

By Cody Butler (Photo credit: Jason D.)