Uncategorized

Hats and the Funeral Parlor

I brought a hat to my Grandma’s service in order to keep my hands busy. It matched my outfit well, with a purple grosgrain ribbon, and with Grandma having loved purple. There was not enough time to get my hair cut (and it’s been six weeks since I’ve seen a set of clippers), so I wore long hair to my grandma’s funeral, just slicked back with hair-paste and–despite the wax—a bit unruly. But you don’t wear a hat in situations that demand respect. Restaurant dinners don’t count anymore, nor other indoor activities where in years past a donned hat would’ve been as conspicuous as an open umbrella in a crowded room. Tally the hatted patrons in your local eatery and consider how times have changed.
Times have changed except in mausoleums and churches, so I fingered the fedora’s brim and turned the hat counter-clockwise by habit, not thinking to place it to my crown. The inside of the hat is dull with wear and the straw is forgiving. A hat is necessarily defined by its creases—it’s what makes a fedora a fedora and a pork pie its own thing—yet the creases, necessarily, soften with age and over time lose definition.
I didn’t wear a hat to my Grandma’s funeral, just purple, which she would have liked. Her closets were filled with every shade of violet.
There was a luncheon after my Grandma’s memorial, but before her entombment, and I didn’t know exactly where to sit.
I resolutely sat with my dad at the front of the chapel for the service, and Cayden sat a few seats down, this being a certain catenary chain of fathers and sons. Cayde did well, administering hugs in his usual and occasional fashion, a bow tie clipped to his collar. It was our intention to not hide him from this, exposure not always leading to frostbite. Sometimes it results in the opposite.
Cayde was warm, hugging the line of monuments—Jenn, my mom, my dad—and he held my thigh when we were singing ‘How Great Thou Art’ which, despite me being irreligious, has a religious effect on me: within the hymn is the common G that descends to an unlikely Am7. It’s an unobvious chord progression, but perfect in its unexpectedness. The minor fall and the major lift, another song says.
I tousled Cayde’s hair, which he swore he washed the night prior. He still smelled like ‘boy’ though, which I noted before he darted off to rejoin his mom sitting an invisible number of seats away. He was almost giddy, and there’s a rehearsed quality to his pretend understanding of all this. Play-acting, maybe, like when he iterates and most likely seeks approval in saying, “You know, Daddy—GG may be gone but she’s alive in our hearts.”
I believe this, but I don’t believe Cayden for a second. It’s a pantomime of empathy; he’s seven. He’s on the right track, but still just seven, which is old enough to understand the gravity of things, but too young to even nascently understand that gravity is a fall, which ultimately ends somewhere. He smiled throughout the church service; the pews and flowers and overhead fly-beams being something new; the drama new; the fact that anyone with a wet face would couch him in an arm not new, but yet a fantastic thing. We’d all like to be held close, unconditionally, and to have everyone grab our little-sized hands to feel better about our guilty and big-sized hands. We’d like to forget how we’ve exactly grown up.
To me, the church smelled like a church and there were five bouquets footing the cross.
It came time for prayer, one of three liturgical moments, and the pastor predictably wore white. Even the irreligious should bow their heads in church as, similarly, you should not wear hats. When Cayde pressed his blond head to my hip and purred his particular ‘I love you,’ only then did I tear briefly, the tears lubricating the insides of my glasses, my head being downturned.
My dad patted my thigh once during the service, this being important, too.
I didn’t know where to sit at the luncheon, most seats having been taken and the room complicated. I tossed my hat onto a chair as place-saver, and considered the buffet. I attempted some macaroni salad on a Styrofoam plate and my second cousin heartily laughed when one forkful had me searching for a discreet trashcan.
Ice water sufficed, and having collected my hat, I found a place outside with my cousins, and in the sun. There were latticework chairs surrounding a low table and we talked. Marshall and Peter and I talked a lot about quilts, and the blankets and afghans and beddings we’d received from GG over the years.
“I think my receiving blanket was washed to shreds,” Marshall said. (It was his ecurity blanket for years).
“Grandma made me a new quilt. Didn’t have heat in the house, so she made me something simple to use as blanket, so I wouldn’t use the good one.”
“Grandma gave me what she felt was her best made quilt,” I say, “And she said there was a mistake in it.” (Still haven’t found it).
Cayde scampered about. He was munching on endless celery sticks, the only agreeable thing he could find on the buffet table.
Occasionally he’d disappear behind a column, crunching a celery heart. “HEE-he,” he would say before moonwalking into notice. His Michael Jackson thing. He’s all over the place.
Talk turned toward Grandma’s wit, which I always appreciated, because clever’s clever, and ever better than never.
Upon seeing Jenn: “How are you GG?”
“Better now, seeing you.”
Upon seeing me: “How are you, GG?”
“Up and taking sustenance at least.”
The cousins and I were giddy, and Peter had a new beard; we grew up together. There were all these jokes and the sun was nice. At one point, I leapt up onto the latticework table.
(I used to walk with Grandma on the beach, and one time she found a piece of driftwood. She was wearing a floppy hat. She stepped up on the knotted log).
I reproduced the moment, pointing with my hat, and standing atop the table:
“I come before you, not behind you!”
“I’ve come to address you, not undress you!” I throw my arms out because that’s what my grandma did, being magnanimous to this invisible audience.
My grandma was funny despite the Duchenne smile and all. We would find sand dollars, and one time, early, there were all these furry purple sand dollars washing ashore, 6 a.m., and we didn’t collect them since they were still alive.
Cayden asked: “Will she have a Dracula coffin?”
“What do you mean, Dude?”
“Well, she could have a Dracula coffin, or—like—that coffin with two latches and with the roof being like this—“ (and he makes a sign suggesting a dome)—“And, where you can lift the lid which goes from here to here (he places a hand on both his head and his heart), and where the rest of the body is here to there (midriff to toe). And, is she naked inside?”
I paused.
“It’ll probably be the one with the latches, and—no—she’s got clothes on.”
The mausoleum is more ornate than I remembered. My Grandpa rests there, too. There are white statues and roseate marble, reproductions of the Pieta and more stargazer lilies than the nose could want.
My grandma didn’t like the stargazer perfume. I don’t blame her—it smells, truly, like a mausoleum.
Inventory: upon passing, my grandma kept few flowers, or fewer than when she was vital. Kalanchoe, African violet, peace lily, autumnal fuschia, Easter lily, plumbago, honeysuckle, rose, aeonium, apple blossom. I would water her plants when she convalesced from a broken hip..
The workers that shoved my grandfather’s casket into the wall wore keys during his entombment, which is a terrible jangling memory. My mom forbade keys when my grandmother was likewise buried.
No keys. My grandma was pressed silently into a wall, as silent can be, there always being the rough sound of concrete with workers pushing and pushing a casket to rest.
Cayden cried. I held him, Jenn held him. My mom also held him and she pointed out the flower reservoirs where later Cayde can leave his offerings.
A quilt was spread over my Grandma’s coffin. It was one of her first, and one that everyone remembers. It’s brown, and characteristically complicated.
Cayde said simply: “I don’t want to her to be gone so soon.” Faced with a coffin, he cried, things not being abstract anymore, but solidified in something that is both solid and veneer. The sudden fact of what we are dead in, and how we dress the vessels in which we’re remembered.
We were first to lay hands on the casket. I held my hat behind my back.
Cayde cried.
I returned to my seat. Everyone soon was gone and, when looking down, I saw a black shoe and a neatly tailored slack leg. Looking up, there was my brother. My uncle, saddest, sat to the right of me. Front row, casket gone, there was a stained-glass window with an upwards view of the parking lot, we being on the basement floor. Above the stained glass were the bottom-sides of tires, and there was a different catenary as people shuffled out, and when I sat alone with my brother and uncle. The stained glass said, “Let us pray,” and my uncle remarked how my grandma would pray, daily.
I spun my hat in my hands, looked down. Eventually I needed to check on my son. I stood up, briefly placed a hand on my uncle’s shoulder and looked over at my brother.
“I’m leaving—need to check on Cayde.”
My brother sobbed; I put my hat on my head.

I find my kid with my cousins. Cayde asks, and in front of a statue:
“Why do we still have mythology?”
I adjust my brim, wearing a hat indoors. (Peter will tell him later all about Hercules and the twelve tasks). I say: “I dunno,” which is not my real answer.
On the rid home, I mention my grandma. I also mention, and Cayde having cried at the realness of everything: “You know we have a quilt. We have a quilt—her hands knitted it. That’s all, I guess.”
He wipes his eyes: “Ok.”
“Grandma’s still alive in our hearts,” he says again.
“Sure, Dude.” I don’t believe him, but I also do, at the same time.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Hats and the Funeral Parlor

  1. Funerals are the worst time with the best people, and this nails it perfectly. My condolences to you and yours.

  2. Again, a beautiful piece. In the middle there where you were describing Cayden, my thoughts went to a phrase back from my Al-Anon days: “Fake it ’till you make it”. It is how we learn as children how to deal in new situations as well, and reading further on, he began to truly ‘get it’. I never went to a funeral until I was 18, (refused to go to my grandmothers at 13) and have chosen to go to only a few since. My grown-up self still doesn’t do well – the small talk and bad food is an excruciating ordeal for me. Thanks for a lovely telling of the awkwardness that surrounds death.

    1. Thanks, Renee. You’ve given me something with that “Fake it till you make it” non-sequitur. It’s been in my head all week and has many applications. But, yes, it applies well to Cayde who was out of his league at the funeral, but who still–I think–had the right seeds planted.

  3. So sorry for your loss Thom, I never knew my grandparents but this made me think of my Mother. She has been gone twenty years already and it seems like yesterday at times. We talk about her everyday and always laugh.

  4. It’s an unobvious chord progression

    I remember a conversation with my grandfather about how funerals make us think about all sorts of stuff, some of it meaningful and some not so much.

    I don’t know enough about reading/playing music to talk about chord progressions, although I often wish I did. What I do know is how it makes me feel and funerals for those I care about send me on a bit of a rollercoaster ride, much of it unexpected.

    Very sorry for your loss.

    1. Thanks, Jack. What your grandfather said is so true and–you know as a writer–the significant and insignificant things all make their way onto a page until the roller-coaster stops, and it perhaps makes perfect sense or doesn’t in the end. Words are there own unobvious chord progression.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s