Yes, yes, from time  to time Uncle Winnie does indulge in storytelling.  Allow me to entertain you with the beginnings of a new one.

Funerals Are For The  Living

I am only the corpse.  When and why did it become so excruciatingly imperative I be present?

I’ve always heard funerals are for the living. I’ve imagined a funeral provided a point of focus for the bereaved— a point in time when they might all come together, bid good-bye to their dearly departed kinsman, friend, enemy, lover, whomever, and milk whatever joy may be derived from a public display of tears.  A date, for those predisposed to such actions, when they might safely, purposefully tear their hair, rend their garments, don sackcloth, ashes, and strike woeful poses amid armloads of calla lilies.  Or maybe just kick off their shoes and skip merrily through that wickedly enticing green clover at the cemetery, expressing the physical relief of burdens suddenly being lifted from shoulders.

For others, harboring deep-seated guilt complexes, having a funeral date circled on their kitchen calendars would grant occasion to bake pecan pies again, shirk ill-fitting diets and commit to wearing slenderizing black for the remainder of the season.  For still others, who dwell a bit too deep in their own shadows, that underscored event jotted on their desk blotter would serve as another excuse to lock themselves in their studies, sit in the dark with a case of gin and the misguided hope false grief could keep tongue-wagging to a minimum.  Yes, for the living, funerals do yield a bountiful harvest.

I’ve also heard of pre-need planning.  Oh, I know people will talk when they realize I entered into such an unholy alliance with an undertaker.  But I did it.  I’ve chosen my casket, my shroud, my plot, my stone and paid for it all with American Express like it was some fanciful Caribbean travel package.  The so-called bereaved parties won’t have to endure the strain— or the cost— at the time of my sudden departure from this mortal world.  But no one down at the funeral home had hinted that I should stipulate my willingness— or lack thereof— to appear at any of the actual festivities.

So anyway, there I sat that last Saturday morning of April 1962, at my breakfast table spreading cherry preserves on my toast when it struck me— a sharp chest pain!  It took my breath away.  I mean way away— for good.  I never felt the impact of my face slamming into my plate of fried eggs.  A single word filled my being.  REST.  It moved through me sort of prickly, like Olde English lettering.  Yes, yes, Eternal Rest.  The end of Time.  The end of Toil.  It was my turn now.

A memory swirled before me of Aunt Caroline’s dining room.  She, jabbing her autocratic index finger into my upturned tenyearold face, saying, “Millicent Anne Parker, stop acting silly!  Stop it at once!  Do you hear me?  You’ll get in too deep.  You’ll die from egg on your face sure as gun’s iron!”

I had been teasing Uncle Walter about his bald head, how red it had turned, while he was coughing on biscuit crumbs.  With fists on hips, I snapped back, “No!  You’ll have egg on your face one day when Uncle Walter dies at this very dinner table and everybody learns he choked to death eating one of your sorry old biscuits!”   I got slapped across my mouth, called disrespectful and sent from the table, for my boldness.  Well, Aunt Caroline, you were right.  Here I am, dead as chalk with fried egg up to my hairline— and a sausage patty under my chin.  But I didn’t do anything to bring it on, so there!

I don’t know the circumstances of how I was discovered at my breakfast table or how I arrived in the back room of Arpeggio’s Funeral Home.  I know only that I was, for lack of better terminology, asleep.  And more at peace than any mortal sleep could possibly have ever felt.

Nor can I describe in mortal language the way dialog occurs between myself— newly immortal, and The One.  But, somehow, I was given the option of seeing and listening in on the doings and conversations of the mortals that I was no longer among.  A deep curiosity led me to opt for continuing to know of their preoccupations for a time.  I had always been curious in life.  That trait was the leading reason I had become a teacher.

Teacher.  Goodness!  Who will be called in to take over my crop of fifth-graders Monday?  I hope it’s not that Nellie Jarman.  Such a busybody!  And can’t wring work out of any student. Doesn’t even try.  Just plays unproductive games with them all day.  I’ve never requested her services as a substitute.  I must see what I can do about that– if allowed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  There I am, lying prone on the cooling board in Arpeggio’s back room.  I see I’ve already been dressed in the shroud I chose.  I had selected the blue jersey one because it matched my eyes.  Silly me!  Who’s going to see my eyes in my present state?  I could have had that lovely velvet maroon.  Especially now that Brenda is brushing maroon nail polish on me.

Brenda.  Brenda LuVee Hotchkiss.  I taught her in my third year.  Even back then, that girl was applying make-up to herself and others in the back of the classroom.  Polish, powders, lipstick.  By the end of term I had confiscated enough supplies to open up my own Merle Norman Studio.  So, she’s working for Arpeggio as some sort of cosmetologist for the dead.  And none of her clients wiggle like they did in fifth grade.

Well, that’s it.  I’m glamorous, or as glamorous as a gal pushing fifty is ever going to be.  That white feather boa looped about my neck and winding down my left arm is the final touch.  With my shoulder line skewered at a rakish angle and head turned slightly away from potential viewers, I do impart an aloof smugness in death.  I’m glad I brought in that boa to fulfill a whim of my pre-need plans and insisted on it above Mr. Arpeggio’s raised eyebrow.  I do look radiant in my hand-rubbed cherrywood casket.  Will viewers like what they see or not.  Oh, well.  C’est la vie.  Or c’est la mort, I should say.

Anyway, Brenda and Mr. Arpeggio have done their funereal best, giving me style, flare, maybe even a little oomph.  Well, no oomph, but I like me.  I look better dead than cousin Ophelia looks alive.  She’s Aunt Caroline’s daughter.   I can’t stand her.  For all her airs, Ophelia’s looked dowdy since she turned fifteen.  Sort of a Mamie Eisenhower— without the bangs.  That’s mean.  But that’s Ophelia.

(To be continued… someday.)

Copyright 2011 WED

Previous Older Entries