Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Putting the Fun back in Funeral.

There are two parts to this situation. The first is sad. The second is hilarious. There would be no second without the first. This causes a third situation that almost doesn't count because it just hangs back in the shadows. It's inappropriate.

My Grandfather died last week. That is the sad part. I know everyone generally thinks that when someones "Grandfather" dies, it's just sad, but certainly not tragic. He was 90 years old. It was time for all of us to let him go. But it is quite tragic in a special kind of way because he wasn't just some old guy. He was a great man. Since this is a blog, and not a historical novel, I can't really go into it as much as he deserves. But I'll try to give a snapshot. He and my Grandmother immigrated to the US via Ellis Island from Holland in 1953. They had two hundred dollars and their seven year old daughter. And, as my Grandmother pointed out during the eulogy, they also brought a sewing machine. They worked on a dairy farm and eight years later, bought their own. They had four more children and when their second child (that's my mom) was eighteen, they sold the farm. Mom married Dad and in doing so, robbed Grandpa of his "best helper." He went on to drive a school bus and he and Grandma lived together on the farm they bought after they sold the Diary operation, until he died last week. All that would have been enough.

There's so much more. Grandpa was part of an elite European swim team in his early twenties. They swam the Engish Channel as a relay. Judging from the photos, he had a very good time. He worked in his father's laundry business until the Germans invaded. He and Grandma were active in the resistance and risked their lives over and over to smuggle American soilders through Holland so they could get back home. Later, Grandpa was Winston Churchill's chauffer and Princess Beatrice's bodyguard. After the war, Holland was starving. Grandma had her first child, but was told that without adequate nutrition, there wouldn't be any more children. She and Grandpa decided to leave their country and come to America. They did not speak English. Their seven year old did not speak English. They got on a boat and spent weeks on stormy waters waiting to see Ellis Island.

Grandpa told me once that the officials on Ellis Island recommended that he change his name from Bastian to something more American. He declined and four children later, named his own son Bastian. Later, a grandson was born and they called him Bastian, too. When my own son was born, there was no negotiation. His name is Bastian.

Last weekend, I reminded my son that he is named after a very important man. I know he thinks I'm full of crap because he's a teenager and I'm his mom and all. There was a 21 gun salute right after the service and my Grandmother was presented with an American flag. I've never met a man who loved this country more than he did. He said it outloud and often. "What a Great Country. God Is Good." My son stood beside me, well on his way to being as tall as his Great-Grandfather was, and as he slipped a shell from the salute into his pocket, it was obvious that his overloaded teenage brain had memorized the day.

Ok, now that you are crying (assuming you have a soul and all) we can get to the hilarious part. Again, this isn't a novel, so you are getting bits.
Bit One:
My father handled the funeral. He's a man of the cloth, so to speak. The night before the service, my uncle may have been loaded. He puts whiskey in a styrofoam coffee cup and that's his traveller. Did I mention we're in Missouri? The evening wore on and at one point, my uncle pressed his forehead to my father's forehead and said, "Buddy, I got these soilders comin'......"
They worked it out so that Dad knew he was trying to inform the minister about the 21 guns. It took awhile.
Bit Two:
I look across the room before we left Grandma's for the funeral service and I see the same uncle. He's wearing a suit coat, blue jeans, and his cowboy boots. Now, we are in the south, so none of that's really out of the ordinary for a funeral. His tie was about eight inches long, though. I had to look away. I thought he was trying to lighten things up. I noticed he still had that same styrofoam cup in his hand and wondered if we shouldn't put some actual coffee in there. Later, I learned that he looked up how to tie a tie on youtube. I guess there's a "how to" section? Before we left for the church, another uncle had fixed the shorty tie for him. While they were working that out, cup in hand, this was overheard.
"You know if you put in 'How To' on youtube the first one there is 'How To Tie A Tie'? The second is 'How To Roll A Joint.'"
Too bad it isn't customary before a funeral to practice your skills regarding the second video, huh.
So Dad and I were comparing notes over lunch with my dear, tall son a couple of days ago and he told this story that I can not keep from every single one of the, oh, 713 people who read my ramblings regularly.

A few years ago moments before a funeral was to begin, the son of the man who had died rushed through the front doors of the funeral home. He was frantic. He had never tied a tie and couldn't figure it out. The music was starting and the family was preparing to enter. The man looked at the funeral director and said, "I can't tie this. Can you please help me?"
The funeral director replied, "Yes. But you may have to lie down."

Now take a moment to forgive me for my dark sense of humor. I take some comfort in knowing that it's hereditary.

1 comment:

  1. I cried on cue. Seriously. Then I stopped crying when you accused me of crying. Then, you unfurled funeral humor. Yep. You went there. Nice.


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