Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Funeral

The minister at my parent's tiny country church is a high school history teacher. A pleasant sort of fellow, not complicated, but the sort of fellow who would satisfy the needs of a poor, rural congregation.

When my father died, the minister was in bed with suspected pneumonia. My mother said that she wasn't sure he would be able to officiate at the funeral. I told her not to concern herself, that we (my father's children) would be completely capable of conducting a funeral. In fact, I have planned and taken part in a number of funerals, though not my father's, for a number of years when I was studying for ordained ministry. (This didn't happen... long story)

I sent her a proposed outline for such a service. Very broad... like Opening Prayer, hymn, scripture reading, eulogy, scripture reading, hymn, homily of some description, hymn, prayer and dismissal. She replied that she thought that the minister would be recovered sufficiently, and that since he had been a part of their lives for the last 28 years, he would want to be involved, and probably nothing as formal as what I had proposed.


The problem is that my mother is genetically unable to plan. Anything. Retirement, weddings, graduations, college, all passed by without any to-do, or any planning. We all mostly put ourselves through college, which is not a bad thing altogether, but we paid for our own weddings, our own graduate schools, our own everything. We also began to contribute surreptitiously to a retirement account for our parents when they were in their fifties, because they weren't doing anything Somehow my mother was incapable of planning (yea, even expecting that they would happen) for any of these life events. And my father was out of the loop on most of these things. He was never actually aware of anything beyond the day-to-day knowledge that we had enough cash on hand for milk and bread. He actually said to me, after being homebound for a number of years, "I never DREAMED that anything like this could happen." Evidently he believed in the tooth fairy, as well.

So, the minster got better and he did the service. My mother's cousin Jack, who come from a family of singers on his father's side, as well as a good number of singers on we, his mother's side, led the singing, and chose some fairly standard funeral fare for this group.

The little church was packed with maybe 200 people. I saw folks I hadn't seen in a lifetime, including a baby I babysat in high school who had just turned 35 on Groundhog Day.

The "tradition" in this community is to open the box at the end of the service for a final goodbye. Not for me. I told my mother as much, but evidently she has to live among these folks and they just would have never forgiven her for leaving the box shut. So, as I saw them opening the box, I exited, stage right.

I went into the tiny lobby, and following me and my beloved husband was my beloved oldest friend, who is good to have around at times like these. We managed to summon enough dignity not to do anything publicly odd, and went around to the side door to greet the souls exiting after their final goodbye. We were goood.

After everyone exited, they loaded up everything and headed for the graveyard. It's a tiny graveyard, overlooking the interstate, and the plots are only $100 so local municipalities have buried some of their indigents there, too. We lined up piously behind the white hearse, and started the two-mile drive down there.

The only landmark between the little town and the graveyard is, sitting on the nearby Interstate, a casino owned by the Citizen Potawatomi tribe. It is the only structure nearby, with a Jumbotron that you can see for miles before you get there. The Cap'n says that it compares favorably with some of the medium-quality Las Vegas casinos he has visited, but since I'm not a casino-person, I don't know. However, Wayne Newton was there on Valentine's Day. They also have something called "Freestyle Cage Fighting" and Vicki Lawrence ("Mama" of "Mama's Family") is appearing in April. It's HUGE. It's GAUDY. And as we quietly, reverently drove by, the lead car, driven by my brother and containing my mother, two brothers, niece and sister in law, turned on their turn-signal, as if to enter the casino and play a little Texas Hold'Em. In the second car, driven by my brother in law, and containing my sister, my two aunts and an uncle, turned on his turn signal as well.

We, being tasteful sorts, did not follow their lead. And we were sure that it would confuse all those behind us.

We were not the worst people at the funeral.

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