(CNN) — A loving message on a headstone in an Iowa cemetery hides a foulmouthed joke in honor of the deceased man’s off-kilter sense of humor. Not everyone in town finds it funny.
Steven Paul Owens’ headstone states: “Forever in our hearts, until we meet again, cherished memories, known as: our son, brother, father, papa, uncle, friend & cousin.”
The text is aligned so that, read vertically, the first letter of each line spells out a vulgar command to absent oneself.
The message has led to pushback from the Camp Township Trustees, who oversee the little cemetery in farmland east of Des Moines.
The dead man’s family says the text is intended to be an ode to his dry humor and sometimes prickly attitude.
Stevie Owens, who died on Sept. 2, 2021, at age 59, was a “very fun-loving guy,” his son Zachary Owens told CNN, though he was also “easily riled.”
Daughter Lindsay Owens said her father used the brushoff almost as a “term of endearment.”
“It meant he liked you,” she said.
The idea to hide the phrase in a longer message came from a cousin, according to the siblings. “Everybody (in the family) was on board,” said Zachary.
A few days before the headstone was to be placed, Camp Township Trustees told them it could not be installed because of the obscenity, Lindsay said. The memorial company that produced the headstone installed it anyway on May 27.
Since then, the trustees have pushed to remove the headstone, a representative of the Camp Township trustees told CNN. The representative asked not to be named out of concern over potential backlash.
“We do not want it there,” the representative said. “It really needs to be removed.”
Allowing the headstone to remain in place could act as a kind of slippery slope allowing for more hateful messages to be placed in the cemetery, the representative said. “If we allow profanity of that sort in the cemetery, and that’s OK for that, how are we ever gonna draw a line on anything else?”
The trustees have also received numerous complaints from residents about Owens’ headstone, according to the representative. The headstone may be particularly offensive to families whose loved ones are buried nearby and thus can’t avoid Owens’ headstone, they added.
“People have the right for decency, not just the one family,” said the representative. The township “just really has to be mindful of what’s best for the masses.”
The township is in the process of consulting its lawyers to pursue removal of the headstone.
Both siblings said that the cemetery’s push to remove the headstone is “hurtful.”
“Our intention was never to offend anyone, ever,” said Lindsay.
“I would just ask that they let us remember our father in the way we remember him, and not take it personally, because it has nothing to do with them,” Zachary added.
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