Today we had the funeral service. I drove to the airport to pick up my wife. The local FM station is stuck in 1977, the year I graduated from high school. Yesterday, as I arrived in Camden, a Boston song from my senior year of high school played, with a four minute faux classical intro leading into "It's been such a long time....". I felt tears well up as I realized that this song would have played when I entered town by car twenty five years ago. On the road to the airport, the radio played "Rock n Roll, Hoochie Coo", and I was struck by the phrase "a band called the Jokers,they were laying it down". I turned up the radio to maximum volume during "Free Bird".
I picked up my wife at the South Arkansas Regional Airport in the morning and we drove to my parents' home. Cousins, aunts, and uncles gathered there and visited with our family. My parents' friends managed the food and clean-up like seasoned professionals in the league of kindness. I loved speaking with the adults and the children among our relatives, and playing my old-hat-but-tired games with them like "bet you can't open this fist". I loved the three year old second cousin with whom I spoke as she grasped my hand. I said "If you come to visit me, we'll go swimming at the indoor swimming pool, called natatorium", to which she replied "my mother says I can't get my hair wet today".
Our extended family gathered at the First Methodist Church two hours early to eat fried chicken, ham and various casseroles together, which reminded me of the delicious potlucks in church basements of my very southern childhood. So many people came to me this week and told me two things--that the resemblance I have to my father is uncanny (a fact I knew), and the observation that my mother was the quintessential southern lady. I do not propose to epitomize my mother in a single phrase tonight.
I worry that although I spoke to many relatives during lunch, in a huge mini-gym fellowship hall, I probably missed a few. One woman I did not recognize turned out to be a near-contemporary cousin's grown daughter. I simply did not know, and hated to miss the chance to say "hi".
My mother prepared a lot of the liturgy for the service prior to the time she passed away. The soloist she selected sang her requested "His Eye is on the Sparrow". The congregation sang her favorite hymn, "Lord of the Dance", as well as "Amazing Grace". My sister gave a eulogy, based on a school essay about our mother she wrote when she was 15. I thought about how my own eulogy would be similar, and how it would be different, but left the idea hanging in mid-air. The minister gave a good "celebration", which is apparently a new-fangled way of saying "sermon". He quoted from the speech I quoted in my last post, as well as numerous anecdotes about my mother, all of which worked very well.
After the service, people from Gurdon, Arkansas, including my sixth grade teacher, came up to pay their respects, along with the throngs of people from my parents' current home town, Camden. A woman with whom I finished high school came and shook my hand, looking at 45 almost as she looked at 17. At my ten year high school reunion, through a miscommunication, she had (perhaps without realizing it) mildly insulted me, so it was a special kindness fifteen years later for her to go out of her way to point out that she had come to my mother's funeral.
The governor of Arkansas wrote a condolence letter to my father which we received today, the day after my mother died. The local newspaper had the obituary on the evening edition of the day she died. The state-wide paper had the obituary one day later, that is, today. I forget, sometimes, how much smaller Arkansas can be than Texas or California, and how much more quickly things can happen here. The pear trees are in bloom here, but a chill nip was in the air today.
The moment that affected me the most was the moment that the service had ended, and we all stood up, and the pall bearers, ten in number, surrounded the casket, and they rolled it from the sanctuary. That was the moment that I realized what had happened in some really concrete way. We went to the graveside, which I met gregw's aunt. The pall bearers were not young, so ten proved to be an appropriate number--they did their part with the quiet dignity that goes with my part of Arkansas. I spoke again with our relatives and with friends of my parents.
The minister read scriptures, and said a word, and then we left to go home. The second moment it all hit me was when we approached the door to my parents' house, and my mother was not physically at home there, waiting for us.
Everyone has been more than kind, both here in Camden, at my work,among my opponents and in cyberspace. One of the funeral home guys is a great guy with whom I went to high school--I rather wish I knew him better than I do, but I find that high school is so often a time when we glance off one another.
My chief distraction, other than finishing "The Sea Wolf" and plowing on through "Pickwick Papers", has been watching my song "High Plains Lullaby" climb to Number 24 on the Soundclick.com "electronica--experimental" charts, although I am afraid it is now number 30 (and for the "full" electronica chart, it only hit the 600s or so), indicating less a "bullet" than a "lead weight". I believe that on-line download sites are great for this illusion of one-hit wonderdom, though, and I am content.
Tomorrow I head back to Texas, and then go to Los Angeles for a Friday morning hearing I must handle. I go to eat catfish now.