It was a bright sunny morning, and when looking out the car window it was hard for Charley to recall what the reports confirmed earlier: that it had reached the lowest temperature in more than a decade.
“I wonder if the sun bouncing off the snow combined with the light hitting me already is equal to what we are daily missing out on if we were down in Costa Rica,” he had said this to his wife a few miles back. The county road had turned to let the south-eastering sun shine blindingly in through the driver’s side window, and the silent farmland coated with snow, couldn’t give back the sunlight quick enough.
“Yeah” she’d sighed, coming out of a thought, “you and your vitamin d obsession.” He had smiled. He knew she tolerated a great deal more of his oddities than any other partner might. “I wonder who else will be there, like besides your sibs and cousins.”
“Yeah, I don’t know,” he had said, “I guess that’s one of the problems with living so long: that you outlive all of your friends, or at the very least they are too old to be able to make the trip to the middle of nowhere.”
“A good middle of no where” he now added, recalling what he had said, and how counter it was to his positive valuations of untainted or mildly tainted rural land. “That reminds me of the joke my dad would say: ‘I’ll go to your funeral only if you come to mine’.”
After about ten more minutes of silence, and a few more forgetful left and right turns, they arrived to the funeral home, with only a touch of help from the GPS. “It isn’t in my blood to let machines dictate where I go; they are my tool, I will not be theirs” was one of Charley’s many mantras.
Charley opened the door and the wind immediately proceeded to close it. A second, more spirited attempt secured the door into an open position.
“Brrr” his wife said, “I’m glad you created a parking spot for us right next to the door.”
They were greeted at the door by an elderly man distributing little cards with a biblical picture on one side, and his grandmother’s full name with life and death dates on the back side. Charley asked for a few of these seeing how large the man’s stash was, and knowing the event would be relatively small.
After a few more familial hellos and a trip to the bathroom, Charley decided to ask his dad where his grandmother’s casket being hidden or when it would arrive.
“Well Charles,” responded his father, “it being president’s day weekend and since she’s being cremated tomorrow anyways, we decided not to have her body here.”
“I think not embalming her and putting all that death fake-up stuff is more our style anyways,” Charley said, though he couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that she wasn’t there, so he could look on her or be next to her and say and think some things.
His wife laughed, “what is your style then?”
“I dunno.. natural casket, maybe next of kin eating their deceased elder’s flesh. Those options always interested me,” he said with a wry smile.
After some more standing around and chasing his nieces and nephews through the old Victorian house a couple of times, the priest arrived and went into a side room to put on his special garbs for the memorial ceremony. The family members proceeded to the designated room where two dozen chairs in segmented rows of three and four awaited them.
His wife wanted a seat next to the edge in case she needed to escape to the bathroom, but Charley insisted they sit towards the middle next to the central aisle. He didn’t tell her, but he was planning to get up and say a few words about his grandmother when the opportunity presented itself. It never did.
The priest came in and started with some doctrine and air-signing a cross “In the name of the son, the fa… you may be seated.” The ceremony was a blur, an abridged version of a typical Sunday morning at any given church, with just occasional mentions of the name “Ruth”. Interspersed in the 35 minute session there were two hymnals with a collective off-key affect, the melody being executed quite differently than the composer had surely intended. And despite the religiosity of the hymns and his own lack of harmonic vocal abilities, Charley wholeheartedly joined the chorus, for collective singing was one of his ideals for humanity and something he felt there needed to be a great deal more of.
The ceremony waned as the back page of the program pamphlet was reached, and there were two final prayers before the end was reached. There was a growing feeling in Charley, a sense to it all, that this was an ode to god, rather than a memorial of his grandmother; they were pleading to god to take in Baba Ruth, reminding the omniscient One his promises and methods to take in good souls that have had faith in the biblical stories and the trinity, and in return to be granted life everlasting. He felt nauseous.
The ceremony ended with everyone immediately standing up, no anecdotal words being offered nor there being any chance to offer them. This was the priest’s show, and he was not having any special guests on today.
The rest of the day was a blur, as Charley uneasily thought of the lameness and unjustice done to his silent grandmother.
Later that night, he imagined himself rising from his chair and asserting a proper closure to the memorial service:
He nervously got up to speak, using not the strength of his own courage but the spirit of his grandmother within him, to speak out. Charley stood in front of the priest, who awkwardly looked on for he was unsure if this was following proper protocol, but this didn’t dissuade Charley from the tone of his words.
“Are we remembering Baba Ruth, or are we remembering how to recite arcane prayers? Well, I have a prayer, and maybe its not so much a prayer to god but a prayer for him. God, if thou art in heaven, fortunate are you if you are blessed with my grandmother’s presence. And if I am fortunate enough to go the same place as she, once my body has no more use of me, then lucky am I too. You are not the one I look forward to meeting upon my death. No, you have not earned my love as of yet. It is my grandmother who I am thoughtful of, and I didn’t think that we really needed to include you in our thoughts today. Somehow, perhaps by some trick of your omnipotency, you have displaced my grandmother as the focus of today. But this is true in words only. I am not focused on you, nor do I fear you enough to say these incantations. I do not fear the unknown, for I don’t know you. I only fear that my grandmother is gone… but then I remind myself that she lives on in all of us here, not because superstitious words are spoken or not spoken, but because of her actions while she was still alive. This has been the word of the lore, thanks be to Baba Ruth.”
Then everyone, including the priest, together said “A-women.”
In loving memory of Baba Ruth