I’ve struggled with this post a bit. Not because it’s difficult to write but because there’s an edge to it that I don’t like… a part that can easily be misinterpreted. Still, it’s important to me to get these things down… on “paper”, as it were but it’s taken me nearly two weeks to do it.
There are so many things that I want to write about this trip that it’s tough to focus. There are the people that I saw, the places that I saw, the weather that I experienced, my new niece and, the funeral that I participated in and, of course, my grandmother. I don’t see a way to pull them all into a single post but neither do I want to write a series about this… It still doesn’t say the things that I want but I’m stuck on it and I have other things that I want to write about so this is the best you get.
My Grandmother died two weeks ago. She was nearly 91. I got the call late on Friday night and at 4:00AM the next morning I was already up, in the car and 45 miles from home. 937 miles and 16 hours later I arrived at my brothers house in Louisiana. Sixteen hours is a long time to spend in a car… especially one that gets nearly 400 miles on a tank of gas (fewer stops for essentials). As I drove I listened to music and wrote blog posts in my head. The posts got better as I added bits to the story, rewrote and edited them. Then, as I grew tired they faded away. Later, I’ll try to recreate them and will mostly fail. Too bad for you… they were pretty good.
Sunday we were up early to visit the funeral home for what we call visitation or viewing or a wake. I’d never heard of a “wake” before leaving Louisiana but apparently it’s becoming more the “in” thing to do, or at least, to call the same old thing. Regardless of what you call it the process is the same. You show up at the funeral home with food and visit with family and friends to show your support for them. You might or might not pay your respects to the dead by walking quietly to the front of the chapel where she lays in a casket surrounded by flowers. In cases where it’s needed you make sure that the family has everything they need. It’s not a party but it’s not horribly depressing either. One of my cousins used the time to up update the family tree. The rest of us milled around and greeted one another talking quietly.
We were there most of the day Sunday but left early. I don’t get home often enough and I wanted to spend some time with my brothers kids so we stopped at my dad’s house to ride four wheelers for a bit. Only one of the two bikes would start so it was Uncle Jinksto with a 5 and 7 year old on one Honda Rancher. We spent about 30 minutes riding around the old home place. My grandparents house is near the front of the property about 300 yards down a gravel drive. My Uncles house is a hundred yards from their house and my dads house is near the front of the property under a small hill. Behind my grandparents house is about 11 acres of farmland that was used to feed six or eight families while I was growing up. Behind that are the ponds that were stocked with catfish and where we spent untold hours fishing as kids.
Monday we were up and off to the funeral. This was more of the same. More visiting, more “it’s good to see you after all of these years, I wish it was under better circumstances” and more “you don’t know who I am, do you?” At 10, everyone filed in and a short sermon by a Baptist preacher followed. He shared hard words in a perfect and solid way. Baptist preachers tend to be able to do that…. the good ones anyway. They can say the things that you or I would never be able to and then soften the message, wrap it in glory and feed it to grieving families on a teaspoon. This one was good.
Once the sermon was finished the back doors were opened and guests were allowed to pass by the casket on their way out to pay final respects. As a pal bearer I was seated next to my brothers and cousins on the front row. As I sat there I watched each person pass the casket. Most would pause briefly for a last look. Later, they’ll talk about how natural my Grandmother looked or how she’d have been shocked to have had her here done that way. They’ll talk about how many flowers there were or how good the preacher was. It’s all part of it, I guess… at least, it always has been in my experience.
The dress would have shocked people in many places. These are poor people, or people who work for a living. They came with no disrespect and grieved with us. They wore they best they had whether suit or blue jeans and it was clean and without holes. One of my cousins wore his EMT shirt, it’s a uniform for him. The girl from the diner had on a uniform as well. A farmer friend wore his best pair of coveralls and a clean shirt and returned to the fields as soon as he could. They took time off from work to be there. It was just country folk doing the best they could with what they had. The family was honored to have them.
The people of my youth were there… old now. People that I’ve known my whole life. I can tell you stories about who started which business. Who managed to get a volunteer fire department started. Which house they lived in 40 years ago and who has slept with whom. I can even name most ex-wives and almost all of the children. Most of them were in their late 30’s or early 40’s when I knew them. Still young and strong and working every day. 30 years has been kind to some, not so much to others. It’s a reminder to enjoy what I have while I can.
After the last mourner had passed we were instructed in how to lift the casket to carry it to the car, which we did. A long ride down back roads brought us to the cemetery and the conclusion of a life.
I stayed an extra day to spend time with the family. On Tuesday morning my brother and I drove out to dad’s camp on the river. It was nice to be there as well… another place that I spent a lot of time at as a kid. When I was young there was an old tiny cabin on the place. Over the years Dad and Friends have built a really nice camp house on the river. The “river” is really more of a swamp… it’s a part of the river that even the river has abandoned. It’s not truly a swamp because water still flows here from creeks and other minor waterways but not much…
As soon as we got back I left for home. On the way out I stopped and had a glass of sweet tea with one of my first cousins. It’s been too many years since we had a chance to sit and chat and it was good to catch up with her. I managed to get on the road at about 4:00 PM and drove all night… another 16 hours to get home. As I left Louisiana The sun was going down and the night had cooled off enough to roll the windows down. I blew through the back roads of Louisiana and Mississippi with all four windows down, the sunroof open and music blasting as loud as it would go. Good, solid country rock to make the hours pass. They are wide straight roads with no traffic… here’s a picture of the only cars I saw in over an hour. :) As I drove through the night the 93% humidity of the deep south soaked my clothes with cooling dampness. As passed over the Mississippi river I reveled in the stench of the thing. The smell of rotting leaves and of America… It’s a warm, rich smell… It smells like Home.