Monday, August 13, 2007


Funerals are such interesting phenomena. Family funerals are even more interesting. Last week I retrieved my mother and joined in the funeral rituals for my 89-year-old uncle, her last brother-in-law.

Depending on whom you talked to, Fred was a genius; a wonderful, giving soul; a kind old alchoholic; a lonely packrat; a gay man so closeted he couldn't even admit homosexuality to himself; or just a cranky, selfish soul who never grew out of his father's house. I've heard he was a nice guy, but that I rarely experienced personally, other than as the delighted recipient of a birthday or Christmas gift. Mostly, I remember being a little scared of him, even in my adulthood. He was a very large man with a booming voice. He didn't much like little girls like me -- especially nonathletic little girls who hated camping, couldn't paddle canoes and flunked out of the Girl Scouts. He didn't like my mom, either, because she was one of those "Feminazis" who spoke her mind and thought we should get out of Vietnam.

So, as I listened to my uncle's friends eulogizing him that day, I couldn't help but wonder who they were talking about. I never met that guy.

Fred's funeral was a combination of overt Catholicism drawing together in communion the devout and the irreligious -- the traditional and evangelical in the same pew with the very nearly atheist. Seated in the front row of Holy Rosary Cathedral were my quite-Republican Aunt Pink and her like-minded daughters, with whom I very nearly incited a political riot before Mass (oops, sorry, y'all), and my West Coast and Duluth cousins, whom I'd describe as progressive but whom the ironically nicknamed Pink labeled "bleeding heart liberals," hippies still. Guess it depends on what you'd smoke if you could still smoke, huh?

Seated in the second row in this impressively displayed caste system were my mother and me. But that's OK. Being invisible had its benefits: we didn't have to recite the readings or bring up the gifts or participate in any other liturgical folderol that made the hippie-cousins feel like hypocrites. Oh, well. At least I knew the prayers and songs at Mass so I didn't embarrass anybody. Being relegated to the second row was a bit like being stuck in the middle.

Afterwards, we drove up to the cemetery for the obligatory prayers at the gravesite, then drove out to my cousin's place on Duluth's Park Point for an unplanned family gathering. We had a nice time -- some got reaquainted and the rest of us got quite drunk. So Fred would have been pleased either way, and this day really was a memorial to him in that regard. He didn't much like social gatherings for the pure pleasure of social gatherings. He was all about purpose. Then again, he liked, as my cousin Sissy so ruefully pointed out in a eulogaic limerick, his Old Crow. So sitting around drinking while gazing upon Lake Superior seemed apropos on the day of his memorial.

Buh-bye, Fred. Oddly, I'll miss you.

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