First funeral

By Mary Bok | Jul 07, 2010
Photo by: Lynda Clancy Mary Bok

Oh my, the music in this place sounds so serious ... ponderous, even ... as it pushes out and away from the red velvety wall toward the other side of the room. The whole place smells of furniture wax and fresh flowers. All those folding chairs are set up in short, intimate rows, as if there were going to be a children's play or something like a performance. Well, there won't be much of a performance, I keep telling myself, because the star of this show is lying in a mahogany casket on that little platform in the front of the room over there ... see it? This very same music you hear is being played on a tape player in the office just a thin wall away from here. And the very same sounds come through those speakers set up on each side of this parlor.

My mother made me dress up for this shindig, and my last year's Mary Janes are now way too tight a fit over my clean white gym socks. My feet are so unhappy I can almost hear them crying. So I fiddle with the patent leather handle on the purse my Toto gave me for my birthday last month -- until my mother catches my eye and freezes me with her stern stare. When I stop the fiddling, she nods in approval, apparently satisfied that I have understood and done her bidding, even though she never actually says a word to me.

Well, give me a break here; this in my very first funeral. I really have no idea what is going on, or what all this stuff has to do with my Uncle Joe. I never saw him dressed up in that suit. I don't think he would be caught dead in it, if anyone had given him a vote, that is. Maybe it was the funeral director's idea. I was there when that guy came to my aunt's house to collect some clothes for Uncle Joe to wear, but Joe didn't come with him, so nobody even guessed what he might want to wear to his own funeral. What do you think of that, now? It was all more than I could understand.

Well, let me get back to that funeral I was telling you about. You see, right across the aisle from me I can see that my little brother Douggie is playing with a match box truck he brought with him. He keeps running it back and forth across his pant leg, which is drawn tight across his lap. He looks up at me and grins, but I catch his eye and give him the exact same stare my mother gave to me. The look extinguishes his smile, and with a kind of sad shrug, he puts the toy truck back in the pocket of his jacket. Then he folds his hands together as if he were going to say his prayers, just as if he were a little angel sent to escort our Uncle Joe to his final resting place somewhere up in the sky -- or wherever heaven really is. I've got my doubts that Doug has the faintest notion about how to get to such a place, even if there were well marked roads that led to the big, white gates where they let you in if you've been extremely good and faithful in your Sunday school lessons and in your day to day life -- and loved your sister just as you love your own self.

Our grandma, Toto, told us all about this the night she came to our house to sit with us while Mom and Dad went over to visit Aunt Anne after Uncle Joe died in his very own bed ... can you believe it? I really wanted to go with them to see Uncle Joe in his deadness, but they said, "Absolutely not.." They said Douggie and I were way too young to understand such things and it was inappropriate for us to be in the company of the deceased at this point in our lives. They really did get kind of uppity sometimes, and it didn't seem to make any sense for me to argue with them about stuff like this. When they made up their minds, it was as if they carved their words on a stone. There was no way to change any of it.



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