Funeral Thoughts

The funny parts:

(1) So I realize while I'm visiting my parents with the kids that Uncle Johny is dead and this will result in a funeral. Of course, I only brought festive summery clothes. Hence, I lapsed into Southern culture as I said outloud "Hmmm. A funeral. I'll need to go shopping." And people around me thought that was normal. My best-friend pointed out "You are SO not Jewish" as she rolled her eyes. She is, incidentially. Those Jews among you will get it. Those non-Jews probably won't. I'm not going to spend eleven pages explaining it to you.

(2) I realized that all the baby-sitters would be at the funeral. I was either going to miss the funeral, or take FOUR children with me. In "serious" and "official" dress clothes (ie khaki's and navy blazers and sebagos). Can any of you say "crenoline"? I decided to prepare the children. I told them plainly. "Uncle Johny died." Shrieks and raving immediately started, fueled by their mistaken impression that UNCLE JOHN had died, who is my brother and their hero. Once that was cleared up, I proceeded to my next sentence. "We'll be going to the funeral." This was met with dead quiet. (Sorry, couldn't help myself) I took one look at their faces and continued. "Ron, what this means is that you will not HAVE to see a dead person. Lee, you will not GET to see a dead person." Ron looked relieved and Lee looked crest-fallen. I put the fear of God in both of them about behaving like small gentlemen. Hand-shaking. Enduring old women who want to squeeze you. Straight shoulders. Starched shirts. Pretty much informed them they would be going into social battle with Nana watching. To the victors go the spoils, which would include "good stuff". They have the sense to trust me to provide appropriate "stuff", aware that if they don't push the issue I'll often up the ante beyond their imagination. By the way, they got a new Spiderman video, three toy guns, and this week they'll get the last surprise reward which is that I've gotten the VERY big glasses to recreate RubyTuesdaysTallCakes at home. Nothing quite as cool as a dessert the size of their heads! (Yes, they REALLY behaved. To the point that it was talked about in subdued tones of approval by old people).

(3) On the way home from the funeral, Ron (age 8) told my dad "Pap-paw, its sure a good thing we went. Lee's been wanting to see a dead person." Pap-paw almost swerved off the road. Especially when Lee (age 6) added "Yeah, but I thought there'd be a skeleton and maybe it would dance around the room!" There is just no telling what they're thinking. Upon further explanation and investigation it was discovered that Lee thought it took a dead body about 15 minutes to turn into a skeleton.

(4) After the graveside, walking back toward the car, my flustered Aunt Elsie grabbed my arm and introduced me to her cousin Juanita (who, if you are following the saga, is Rocky and Leon's aunt on their mother's side. I think) Juaita is a lovely elderly women, thoroughly Southern as so very many Southerners are still in rural areas. She smiled at me, perhaps not entirely reaching her eyes, and said "I told Elsie I just had to meet you after seeing your boys at the funeral last night. Such good boys. Tell me ... Are you as good a cook as your mother?" Ok, gentle readers, pay attention to that. First the compliment. Then another compliment. Then a trick, slipped under the radar. But, I wasn't brought up by slackers. I've got mad skillz. I knew immediately that "yes" would label me arrogant and "no" would label me imcompetent. So, the correct answer is "Oh, so very few people are as good a cook as Mother. She's rather extraordinary that way, isn't she?" delivered in a slow sugary tone that would kill a diabetic. And, how do you know its the correct answer? Because the dowager that tried to trip you up with it honestly smiles her approval slightly and nods her head cedeing the point. Touche! This is the verbal equivelant of being set upon by sword-wielding maniacs as you try to rescue the King on Masterpiece Theatre. Interesting to note, I thought Aunt Elsie was going to faint. Obviously thinking I was about to fail the test. Which, frankly, her daughter would have.

The not-so-funny parts:


(2) One reason I traveled back for the family reunion was to see Norman's fiance. I'd heard WILD stuff about her! Sam called me absolutely squealing! Apparently, we have the same name. And the same eyes. And the same looks. And the same personality. And the same style. And the same ... etc. Its like he cloned me! Let me point out that Norman has NEVER been in love with me nor I with him. Never even the delusion. But, I have loved him forever. He is the kind of brother every girl should have. The kind of friend every person should have. He's the one that taught me about trust and loyalty. Even as a child, he was the one you could trust. The one that didn't let you down. The one that had your back. Marines don't leave their own. Don't give up their own. Never abandon their own. And in his mind, growing up and still, Sam and I were his own. My husband pointed out once that Sam and I were loyal, almost to a fault. In a way you don't usually see in people. But we had ... complicated ... childhoods. Lots of the time, Norman was the only thing that held me together. Knowing that No Matter What, Norman loved me. Period. He just looked at me and saw ... me. And that was enough. Can you imagine what that means to a child? In a world where even perfection was not enough. He looked at me and said "You're pretty." not "You're pretty, but you need to lose ten pounds to be better --but you need to be more charming like Beth -- but you need to be smarter like Marsha -- but you need to be more ambitious like Connie -- but you need to be more athletic like Cynthia -- but you need to be more artistic like Samantha --but you need to be more something like someone". Sometimes I think we survived because of Norman, Sam and I. Even when worlds conspired to destroy us, we could hold to that One True Thing. That Norman would never let us down. I like to think, I didn't let him down either. I'm pretty sure I didn't, since he's marrying "me". I find that to be tremendously smugly satisfiying, no matter how much the obviousness of it it irks his sisters (who are VERY different people). Because it points out to me that he knows who "really" loved him for him.

(3) One reason I took the boys to the graveside service (no sport-coats required at noon in 100 degree weather in full sun in the South) was that Uncle Johny was a WWII veteren, so it was a burial with full military honors. The boys were fascinated by the flag folding and the 21-gun salute. We were standing a few rows behind and to the right of Norman (and, FINALLY, a good long look at The Fiance)(we were dressed almost alike -- lol). I could almost hear his thoughts whispering in my head "not fair not fair not fair", knowing that because of a training accident he is to be forever denied his most cherished dream of dieing in combat as a Ranger. Still, he did pretty well until they played Taps. Flinch. Single tear behind the dark glasses. The Fiance palms him a petite tissue without even turning her head. Very subtle. Very classic. Very its-not-all-about-me. Very excellent-butler-behavior. Its possible I'm the only one that even noticed. I shudder to think that I had the "Approving Dowager Aunt" look in my eyes. Regardless, her life will be slightly easier because of it. She had his back, and we'll have hers (Sam and I). The Southern extended family is ... interesting. But with Sam and I on each side of her, the Sisters will close rank behind her (some out of love for her and a few out of fear of me), and no one in their right mind will speak a word against her.

(4) Standing at the graveside, I decided that I won't be telling another branch of the family where the bodies are buried, so to speak. As it turns out, I'm now one of two surviving family members that know what really happened to get two of the uncles disowned. My mother was sworn to secrecy, but as an easedropping child I made no such promise. Its a HUGE secret that prompted a split in the family because one branch didn't trust the other branches unless there were explicit explanations for certain behavior, which was forbidden by the Older Sisters. I've toyed with the idea over the years of telling and being done with it. Of simply blowing everyone out of the water in a brilliant blazing moment of truth! A moment people would speak of with awe for decades. Of leveling people to tears of remorse for their shameful distrust of blood-kin. But I came to the realization during this last visit that it wouldn't change the distrust. You either trust someone or you don't. I find it ... sad ... that branch can't or won't reach past their paranoid suspicions to think "hmmm, maybe there was an explanation for all those decades ago". I realize that at least part of my desire to tell is the vindictive desire to show them in all their wrongness and another part is a desire to say "I told you so" or "You should have listened when I told you all was not as it seemed" or more basically "Nyah, I knew all along". Thats rarely a good motive in personal relations. Better to let sleeping dogs lie, I suppose. Man! I really want to tell!


You definitely win on the funeral stories.

As for family rifts - there is no way you'd have come out unscathed by telling the truth. Odds are, everyone already knows the truth - they either choose to accept it or not. Often it's easier to hold onto one's pride than admit to having been wrong all those years.

You were the epitome of Southern class. Polite and kind. Go Lucy!

Jennifer Knighton | 07/03/2006 - 12:24 AM

Oh NO, they SO very most definitely DON'T know. Which is probably what makes them testy. And they don't know the half of it! The kind of secret that would make people actually faint! In public, no less!

And the one of the interesting parts is that the Older Sisters keep it a secret because it embarrassed one of the brothers (in an innocnet kinda way), and he desperately wanted to protect his reputation. Never considering the fallout years later from the HUGE scandel that would result from people not knowing.

I'm thinking I'm going to post it later. Because, I could be hit by a bus tomorrow and Sam would go nuts if I took the secret to my grave :p And, no, I won't tell her until the last Older Sister dies or until I tell everyone in the family. Which makes her a little nuts already.

Lucy | 07/03/2006 - 03:59 PM

Wow! I don't like family secrets. They always wound, never help anyone, and seem to hurt the very person they were supposed to protect.
Jennifer and I had an uncle that died at the age of three. Mom and her brother, ages 5 and 4, were "watching" him while Grandma and Grandpa were out. Billy fell and got a piece of rusty medal in his eye. By the time the docs realized he had tetnus, it was too late. He lost both eyes before losing his life.
The secret, my grandmother felt personally responsible for leaving mom and Burlen to watch Billy, they were too young, and Mom, as the oldest, always thought she was responsible because she was the oldest.
Mom didn't know until her late 30's that Grandma didn't blame her. She just bottled it up and never spoke of Billy again.
Waht a shame, what a secret.

Leah | 07/03/2006 - 11:47 PM

Skeleton??!! Dancing skeleton????!!!!!!! =:-o

Paul Burgess | 07/04/2006 - 02:32 PM
Make Waves

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