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​​​Funeral day; still playing the cards dealt.

Folks gathered around as near and far as Alabama could reach to see a man no one really hated, but no one particularly liked, either. The chapel was full of a rather large family and a few of those who thought the ceremony might not take all day. You know, put a tick mark in the positive column so one could pull out and flash around on judgement day.

It was as close to a conservative Baptist observance as the south could ever muster; no Jesus jumping, no speaking in tongues, no baptismal bathtub, no snakes that I saw. Just an old-fashioned see-me, see-you service. I’m here, but don’t call on me for anything cuz I ain’t sittin’ in the front row.

My mother had not seen her husband since the hospital and now it was time to say her goodbyes. She stood on shaky legs and I took her left arm to guide her to the casket. Diane jumped up to seize mom’s other arm. I motioned backward with wide eyes to my brother-in-law for him to get my sister away. I was not prepared for another scene like last night, but my brother Steve quickly replaced her.

Mom seemed alright. She fixed dad’s hair and touched his cheek. It seems I had panicked prematurely. Then Steve started to cry. He leaned on the shoulder of the 67-year-old woman next to him. She staggered. I tried to support her.

“For Christ’s sake, soldier, pull yourself together,” I whispered just before we all fell.

Silence in the room. Maybe they had all fallen asleep. I picked up mom and brushed her off, then straightened my borrowed suit. When I turned, no one in the audience was dozing. I saw a pack of deer lost in our headlights.

It was probably appropriate this scene was the last nail that sealed the dead man’s coffin. The lid closed, and the casket rolled out the side door to the waiting hearse. The pallbearers walked behind the vehicle until it reached the top of a small hill. As the coffin rolled out of the backend, it began to rain again. That’s right, go ahead and rain on me now.

I wrapped a hand around the front handle and Steve grabbed the handle on the other side. His six foot three frame put me at a distinct disadvantage. All of the coffin’s weight shifted toward me. Being the runt of the family, I used both hands to carry the load.

“Steve, can’t you move to the back?” I asked.

“You’re in the front, so I’m in the front,” he replied.

I struggled down the hill with the added burden. The tent came closer, but not fast enough. Mud caked my shoes, and it was increasingly difficult to walk sideways. Mercifully, we entered the shelter of the tent with the last bit of my strength. As we reached the two aluminum 4x4s across the grave, the pallbearers lowered the casket. The handle slipped from my grip about a foot above the crossbeams. The coffin bounced, throwing the others off balance.

One of my feet was too close to the hole as I tried to correct the bounce. I slipped under the coffin and slid into the grave.

“Get me out of here,” I yelled. “This old man is trying to take me with him.”

Two men caught my flailing arms and dragged me face first from the hole. Mud slicked my body from above the hairline to my feet. I stood tall and sat beside my mother as if nothing ever happened.​

Funerals Aren't Supposed to be Fun - Part 2

Coming of Age     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage