`That's All Folks'

Like her dear, departed, cartoon-loving mom, Laraine Harford would love to leave us laughing. When the day comes, a Tasmanian Devil cookie jar will be her vessel of choice.

November 10, 2003|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

When the Tasmanian Devil arrived, the first thing Laraine Harford did was carry him to the kitchen. She gingerly removed the cartoon character cookie jar from its box, pulled off his head and began carefully pouring tap water inside, one measuring cup at a time. At 20 cups, she stopped.

Big enough, she thought. She smiled with satisfaction. Her two-year quest was over.

Harford poured the water out, let Taz air dry and put him back in his carton. She swathed that with bubble wrap, placed the bundle in a clear plastic bin filled with chunks of shipping foam and snapped the top firmly in place, sliding the bin under the table that holds her African violets. There, she hopes it will stay, unused, for a good long time.

For Taz - the relentless Looney Tunes character that consumed everything in his path - is no simple souvenir to Harford, no collectible to be sold at a profit later, no kitschy container in which to keep her cookies.

Taz is her final resting place.

Beneath her polite and proper exterior, Laraine Harford has always had a little bit of the Tasmanian Devil inside her, she says. So it is fitting, in her view, that she spend eternity inside him.

"He's basically unstoppable," said Harford, who lives in Columbia. "He goes through rocks, through trees, shrubs and mountains. He's very determined, and fierce. He doesn't let anybody get in his way ... He's a little bit on the nutsy-cuckoo side, but what is normal anyway?"

Upon her death - not expected anytime soon, Harford, 49, is quick to say - she plans to be cremated, have her ashes sealed in the ceramic Tasmanian Devil and have it placed on the top shelf of the entertainment center at her mother's home in Calvert County.

There, it will rest alongside the Bugs Bunny cookie jar that has been there since 1999.

It contains her mother.

Betty June Harford, known for her sense of humor and her love of cartoons, died at age 68 of heart failure. In keeping with her request, she was cremated. But she left no directions about what to do with her ashes.

After visiting the funeral home and seeing cremation urns that sold for as much as $1,200, her three children decided they could do better, for much less money.

"My mother wouldn't like it if we spent money like that," Harford said. "She didn't agree with spending a lot of money on caskets and embalming."

In the days after her death, Laraine's brother Bill visited the Warner Bros. store that used to be in Annapolis and returned to the family home with a cookie jar he thought might be an appropriate receptacle - Bugs Bunny, dressed in harem attire and holding a magic lamp.

"We took one look and just loved it," Laraine recalled. "It was perfect. If he'd gotten something tacky we would have said so, but it was perfect - I think it's what she would have picked for herself."

Laraine Harford, a baby boomer, grew up with television. "I don't think my mother ever turned the thing off," she said. She loved movie and television comedies, and cartoons, particularly the classic Looney Tunes andTom and Jerry.

"Mom had one of the greatest senses of humor in the entire world. In every picture you see of her, she's laughing or smiling. She had such a great laugh. It was one of those laughs that make you feel good to hear it. You would have liked her," Harford said. "She brightened up the places she went."

Betty Harford had cardiomyopathy. She died unexpectedly, Harford said. "She had just finished watching Frazier when all of a sudden her heart stopped."

A memorial service was held the next week. "We had her cookie jar there, but I'm willing to bet very few people realized that it contained the guest of honor," Harford said.

Since her death, the Bugs Bunny jar has sat on the uppermost shelf of the entertainment unit at her mother's home - along with a few of her favorite things in life: a bottle of Coors Light, a Betty Boop watch, a deck of playing cards, her bowling awards.

The house remains in the family and is used regularly by Harford's younger brother and sister, both of whom are married and have two children. "We love it. It is the last thing we have left of better days and better times. It is where the little ones learned how to fish, where we had crab feasts and Christmases. There is no price tag you can put on those things," Harford said.

After getting over the shock of her mother's death, or at least starting to - "It's like all the sunshine has gone out of things," Harford says - she set about finding her own cookie jar.

"I thought, you know, that's really not a bad idea," she said. "I'm hoping that one day, when I'm up there in my cookie jar, the kids will look up and remember me and think fondly of me."

Harford's search was complicated by the fact that, about the time she started looking for a Tasmanian Devil cookie jar, Warner Bros. studio stores, as a result of a merger, went out of business.

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