Monday, February 13, 2006

The Wrong Funeral

Twice, my family has shown up at the wrong funeral...

The first time was when our neighbor passed away. I don't really have many neighbors due to the large tracts of land that everyone owns...that spreads us out. Still, I do have people on 3 sides and even if I only see them a few times each year, they are my neighbors.

Mr. O. was a kindly old gentleman who lived with his wife on our southern boundary. They were perfect neighbors, mostly out of sight, out of mind. Mr. O would talk to me over the fence or occasionally wander over looking for his tiny dog which was quite the escape artist. Our kids would take extra cookies over to visit once in awhile, and Mr. O and his wife went to the same church as my crew.

One day, my wife sadly informed me that Mr. O. had died. She had read the obituary notice in the local paper. The services were to be held during the work week, I couldn't make it, but my wife took the kids to say goodbye. They were pretty young, but she wanted them to be there as a comfort to Mrs. O. They were seated at the funeral feeling sad that their kind old friend had passed, when in walked Mr. O. and his wife. He saw them immediately and made a point to walk over and express his gratitude that they would come to his brother's funeral.

My wife played along as if that had been the plan all along and the kids just stared wide-eyed at him, Lazarus as it were...

Fast forward to a couple of years ago. My mom called me from St. Augustine to tell me that the father of one of my highschool buddies had died. Mr. G. was a funny part of my youth, always cracking jokes and even though I had not seen my old buddy (his son) for a long time...decades actually, I felt it was important to be there. I checked the obit for the name of the funeral home and the cemetery. The funeral was in Lake City, about 80 miles away, so I printed a map also. My ducks were in a row.

I left early on funeral day so I could find the cemetery and be on time for the 11:00 am graveside service. When I got to Lake City, the cemetery, Memorial Gardens was harder to find than I had expected. Why can't real life be more like the Mapquest maps?

Finally, I pulled into a little country store and asked about the cemetery. "Go here, take a left, go about 2 miles..." It was getting close to the 11:00 am start time so I took off in a hurry.

Finally I spotted a big cemetery, Memorial Gardens. In the center, beyond a line of parked cars, a green funeral tent was surrounded by mourners. I whipped the Jeep into the entrance, parked, and walked quickly towards the tent. I looked at my watch, 10:54 am. I had made it.

The mourners were crowded around the tent, I couldn't see the family, but I knew they were sitting up front. I walked around the back of the crowd and blended in.

The preacher ascended the little podium stand and began to speak. I glanced around me at the well dressed people...hmmm, I don't see anybody I know. Still it had been a long time and I didn't really know Mr. G's extended family. The service was going along nicely, when a young girl was introduced prior to singing a song. The preacher said, " ...and now Janet's granddaughter will sing, Amazing Grace, one of Janet's favorite songs"

Janet? Who is Janet? I began to imagine the unimaginable. Funny how the brain tries to convince you that weirdness can't really be happening. I tried to rationalize who Janet might be as the little girl sang on. Then the song was over, the young girl stepped down and the preacher began to share Janet's life story. There was no longer any denying the truth. I was at the wrong funeral. We were a good 15 minutes into the service and if I didn't leave now, right now, I would miss the funeral of my friend's dad.

So, in the height of Janet's funeral, as the preacher was telling the story of her long life, I made my plan to exit. I began easing towards the back of the crowd, still facing the preacher, but trying to get outside the crowd. It seemed to take forever. Finally, I was out. Next, I had to walk around the crowd and the tent...in front of everyone. I fixed my eyes straight ahead and walked quickly out, around, and to the Jeep. Inside, I put the key in the ignition and hesitated. There was no getting around it, I had to start it up during Janet's eulogy.

I turned the key and drove quickly through the graveyard gate. Down the road about 3 miles, I spotted the funeral home from the obit notice. I turned in and went inside. Nobody was around. There was a bell on the desk, so I rang it. A guy came out eating a peanutbutter sandwich. "Can I help you?"

"I'm here for the G. funeral and I'm late." I gasped.

"I'll say, " he munched, " It's probably almost over".

"Where is it?"

"Uptown, the Memorial cemetery across from the National Guard armory."

I ran to the Jeep and headed downtown...in lunchtime traffic now.

Finally, I spotted the armory and there in the cemetery a funeral tent. The few cars left were leaving, the rows of chairs were empty, and there beside his father's grave was my old friend...just about to leave.

He stared at me, totally surprised to see me at all, much less after the fact.

I told him the story of my morning, and there, at the graveside of his father we laughed loud and long.

I imagine that somewhere...Mr. G. was laughing too.

14 comments:

pablo said...

Did you see the film Waking Ned Devine? There is a funeral scene the the midst of a shenanigan in which the eulogist has to give a talk supposedly about the "deceased" who is actually a man present in the audience. (The real dead man had just won the lottery and the town was going to share the winnings if they could convince the investigator from the lotto commission that the dead man was someone else.) Anyway, the eulogist says all kinds of really wonderful things about his friend, who is in the audience listening, and though it sounds like the heartfelt words we reserve for those who have died, it's a touching moment that reminds us to tell our friends what we truly think of them while we still have the chance.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

All's well that ends well -- TWICE!!

Rexroth's Daughter said...

What great stories, FC. I love the image of you and your friend laughing at the graveside-- knowing that his dad would have appreciated the story too! Wonderful.

Hick said...

What a great story and a wonderful tribute to a man who had a sense of humor.

Why does your story remind me of I Love Lucy?

Heh!

Floridacracker said...

Pablo,
Well said. I have never seen the movie, but we really should say those things in the living present. Guys are the worst at this.

Hoss,
Definitely. I do get razzed about it when we reunite though.

RD,
Thanks. He really would have thought it was funny...and he would have teased me unmercifully.

Hick,
It does have that Lucyesque air about it. It felt a little more like Candid Camera.

Rurality said...

Oh too funny! This is one of those things that makes for a good story afterwards, embarrassing though it is at the time. :)

(xulxs: an extra-small xul)

vicki said...

This is a great laugh FC. The first lesson is tied to reading the obituaries. I'm thinking about you starting up the jeep in the midst of Janet's eulogy- too funny. And how grand that you made it to your friend in the end. A wonderful story- thanks!

Floridacracker said...

Rurality and Vicki,
It did lighten the mood at the post funeral gathering...which I did attend and on time.

I hated to start the Jeep...there was just no other way. What I wonder about is Janet's family...Did they turn to each other afterwards and ask, "Who was that man in black who only stayed for half the service?" I may have started a family mystery...

Laura said...

Man,, I love playing catch up over here. Those two stories were hilarious!!

Abandoned in Pasadena said...

Very funny story!!!

doubleknot said...

Just too funny - my family showed up at the wrong wedding once and once I was taking pictures of a family wedding and got left at the church while everyone went to the reception. They had to delay the bride and groom's entrance till someone came back and got me.

Floridacracker said...

Laura,
All true and unembellished. It's whacky around here!

Abandoned,
Thanks, definitely a day or two to remember.

Doubleknot,
See, I'm not the only one who gets in to these situations.

benning said...

Embarrassing, but nice. Amazing how we make memories no matter the circumstances.

Floridacracker said...

benning,
Emotion is the heat that sears them into memory.