I know I still have a part 2 to deliver about my Dad. It hasn’t been easy to do that because a little of it is like looking into a mirror and I am not sure if I want to take that journey just yet.
Here is a story ripped from today’s headlines, if we had a family newspaper that is.
Yesterday, my dad called to let me know one of his sisters had died on Tuesday.
She had been battling cancer, diabetes and dementia. She was 86.
He told me that I didn’t have to come to the funeral service which was today (Friday) at 10:00.
It was nice of him to give me an out. For one thing, we haven’t really been that close to her portion of the family over the years. Also, it is Memorial Day weekend which means the round trip to his town and back would be five hours of driving hell. Dodging travel trailers and boats. Families with 8 people stuffed into vehicles meant for 5.
So, I set the alarm for 6:00 and prepared for the trip. Nothing noble on my part, this is just one of those “oldest child ” responsibilities. There are a few with funerals being one of the top ones.
On the drive up, I listened to some Sinatra. The average age of my remaining aunts is 88 and Dad is 85 so Frank helped put me in the right frame of mind.
To add a little tension, Dad informed me that the obituary neglected to mention him or his two remaining sisters as survivors. Understand, the four of them have lived in the same town for over 80 years. It would be hard to forget about all of them.
In addition, his oldest sister (Babe) has been feuding with him and his other remaining sister(Ruth).
I was always under the impression that older folks mellowed as they aged.
I was misinformed.
I asked what the problem was.
Dad said, “You know she lives in an assisted living place, right? Well, when I would call her, we would be talking until someone would knock on her door, then she would say she had to go.”
Dad: “I don’t need that. So I stopped calling.”
My dad has a saying, “I may forgive but I never forget.”
He isn’t kidding about that. And I don’t thing you can call it forgiving if you don’t let it go. But, I am not going to be the one to challenge him on his pet theory. That is how you remain the oldest living son.
So, when I get to the church, Dad and Ruth are standing around near the entrance while Babe is at the other end of what is, according to Dad, the longest church aisle in Fort Wayne. How he knows that is beyond me but i can go along with it. It seems like a long way down to the front.
As I walk up to him, Ruth’s son Tim, catches me and asks if Dad knew I was coming. I told him no, I didn’t want to promise anything unless I was sure I could get up there.
I pat Dad on the back and ask how he is doing. He tells me the obituary story again. This will happen a few more times before I head back home.
I should mention that this church is one of the oldest Catholic churches in the city. Dad and his family know every nook and cranny.
Back in the old days, there was even a bowling alley behind it on the church property. Dad worked as a pinboy for some extra money. It was before automated bowling pinsetters were invented. The kids would put the pins in a rack and lower them by hand for the next frame. A skill that required quickness for two reasons. One, the faster they worked the more games people could get in. Which meant more money for the parish. Two, bowlers are rolling a sixteen pound ball at ten pins that are within inches of your legs. Got to be quick and aware back there.
Well, enough of that, back to the funeral.
Dad and Ruth went up to the front of the church to find a pew and to at least say hello to Babe. She has trouble seeing these days, so Dad put his hand on her shoulder and said, “Hi.” She took his hand for a moment and as it started to get a little dusty in there, she looked at his hand and said,”You’re getting old.” So much for reconciliation. Dad came back to the pew muttering,”Same old Babe.”
The service starts and being a Catholic ceremony a lot of standing and sitting is involved. That didn’t matter so much when I was a kid but just watching my dad and his sister get up and down about a dozen times in a half an hour seemed cruel.
One moment of strangeness occurred when one of the hymns chosen was Morning Has Broken . Yes, the Cat Stevens song. I know it was a church hymn first, but the idea of these older conservative types singing a song made popular by a guy who was on a no-fly list not that long ago made me smile.
As communion was being given, Ruth and Dad were plotting their escape. The funeral procession was going to form and proceed to the Catholic Cemetery. These veterans of skipping official functions passed the word along that when our row was let out we were heading for the side door. It was the slowest moving church break ever. But it was effective.
Maybe if they were 10 years younger, they would have gone to the graveside services. I know they will find their way over to the cemetery in due time. I don’t count out the obituary slight as having something to do with cutting the day short.
Dad and I went out for a sandwich afterwards.
One other odd thing happened, as he was paying for the meal, I could see he was having trouble figuring out the tip. He caught me watching and said, “I don’t figure the tip on the amount with the tax included.” Where does that come from? I don’t know. I just chalk it up to a “Dad quirk”.
When the meal was over, I walked with him to his car and he said, “Thanks for showing up. I was surprised to see you.”
As he drove away, I remembered a funeral service for my great-grandmother around 40 years ago. Dad and one of my mom’s cousins were pallbearers. After their duties were done, the cousin said to Dad, in a kidding voice,”You weren’t lifting your share.” Dad replied, “That’s why I get in the middle.”