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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

FUNERAL FLASHER

My grandma Fowler died of a heart attack in July, 1989. She’d been a hypochondriac and complained about anything and everything as long as I could remember. She should be in the “Guinness Book of World Records” for surviving the most heart attacks, strokes, and blackouts, of anyone in recorded history. I guess she did it for attention, but it had the opposite effect. No one believed her, or took her seriously when she really was sick, but she lived to be eighty two, so I guess she did alright.

I was living in Dallas at the time and when my mother called me with the news she said, “Your grandfather is really taking this hard. I wouldn’t be surprised if he grieves himself to death. You know that happens sometimes with elderly couples. One dies and the other follows soon afterwards.” This shocked me since it had only been a month earlier that he’d gone over to my parent’s house crying because she’d threatened to stab him with a butcher knife while peeling potato’s to fry for his lunch. They’d had a strange relationship to say the least her screaming and yelling at him all the time and him ignoring her by singing silly little ditties he’d made up long ago to drown her out. “Oh, boogie, she rode the shugie!” Her death hadn’t been sudden and she’d been hospitalized for a couple of days before she finally succumbed. My mother said, “Your grandfather couldn’t even bring himself to walk into her hospital room. We’d try to take him, but he’d get as far as the door then he’d just fall to pieces. You’d better be prepared to attend his funeral here pretty soon.”

That was hard for me to imagine I always said if there was a God in Heaven that he would take my grandmother first and give that old man a few years of peace before he died. I’d seen it before though some old lady wouldn’t stop bitching and griping about her husband he couldn’t even eat his eggs to suit her and when he died he was the sweetest man who ever walked the face of the earth, a dear saint, and she the grieving widow.

I flew back to Midland to attend the funeral in Sand Springs, and the burial in Colorado City. Most of my grandmother’s people are buried there, so many years earlier my grandparent’s had bought burial plots in the little cemetery right off the interstate. The funeral home that took care of the arrangements had a seventeen year old Cadillac hearse and a limousine just about the same age, so my mother told them we wouldn’t need the limo we’d just use her mother’s new Cadillac instead. It was decided before I got there that I would drive my aunt Agnes’s Oldsmobile, and she and my aunt Ruby would go with me in the same car. Lots of my grandmother’s people showed up, so it was a nice little turn out. My grandmother looked very pretty in a new floral print dress my mother picked out and a pair of vintage earrings I’d given her. My brother Danny had driven up from Conroe and my mother told us, “You boy’s need to stay close to your father in case he needs help with your grandfather, he may pass out, or fall down, he’s so upset.”

After the church service and the rest of the family had walked by the coffin to pay their respects it was our turn to go. I walked up to the coffin at the same time my grandfather did. My grandfather placed his hands on the coffin and bent over as if to speak to her. He then let out an anguished “Oh,oh!”, and I had to get out of there. So far I hadn’t cried, but the sight of that old man breaking down might have pushed me over the edge. I walked out into the courtyard and was given a hug by my second cousin Linda. Soon my sister Stacy walked out with a tear in her eye and a funny look on her face. She looked straight at me, but before I could ask her anything Linda was hugging her too. Just then I looked up to see my father and my brother almost carrying my grandfather from the church. They were holding him under his arms and by the back of his pants and had him almost off the ground as they drug him to the waiting Cadillac. He stayed in the car as they carried the coffin to the hearse, and we finally got on the way for the forty mile drive to the grave site. On the way Agnes, Ruby, and I, talked about just how hard Sam was taking Arlena’s death. We couldn’t believe it after she’d always been so mean to him. They told me stories I’d never heard before like the time back in the fifties that he came home drunk and she knocked him in the floor and hog tied him until he sobered up and her saying things to him like, “Sam, if you don’t mow the yard I won’t make you any fried tater’s for supper!”

After the grave side service the preacher asked my grandfather, “Mr. Fowler, wouldn’t you like to visit with your guest?” He just mumbled “No, I just wanna go to the car.” It was nearby, so Danny started it up to get the air conditioner going and he and my father placed him in the back seat with the right rear door open, so people could stop by and give their condolences. On the way back to my parent’s house we again discussed his overwhelming grief and his inability to cope with her death.

We stopped by the motel room Ruby and Agnes had rented to change before going to my parent’s. I don’t remember how or why, but they got to the house earlier that I did and when I walked in the door my mother started laughing. I knew she wasn’t fond of my grandma, but I thought it was rude of her to be laughing at a time like this. I asked, “What’s so funny?” “She giggled, “Didn’t you see it?” “See what?” I asked. She responded with more giggles. About that time my grandmother Edna came around the corner and said, “I told them, but they wouldn’t listen.” “Told them what?” I asked. Mother was laughing out loud by then, and said, “I’m not saying anything, if you didn’t see it, you’ll have to go find your grandfather and get him to tell you.” It was obvious he wasn’t in the house, but I spotted him out the kitchen window sitting on the patio with Ruby and Agnes and they were all laughing. I couldn’t wait to get outside so I could find out what the big mystery was. I didn’t have to wait long just as I stepped out the back door my grandfather said, “Sammy, something happened to me today that wouldn’t happen again in a hunnered years!” “What?” I asked. “When I walked up to your grandma, I reached out and put my hands on the casket and my pants dropped to the floor. It’s a good thing I had my hands on that casket and not on her arm, or I’d jerked her outta there.” Agnes laughed, “I don’t think I’d tell that story on myself Sam.” He said, “I might as well, by tomorrow that preacher’s gonna tell everybody.” We all busted out laughing.

Later my mother asked me where I’d gone off to when it happened. I told her that I was afraid he was going to break down and I had to get out of there. Apparently the “Oh,oh!” I’d heard was the sound he’d made when his pants fell down. Mother said the preacher was trying to help him get his pants up when she had to tell my father to help him and she had to reach over and slap Danny on the shoulder to get his attention to go help them. That’s why they had their hands on the back of his pants when they carried him out to the car.

At the airport on the way home I had to use the pay phone to call my aunt Nell. When I told her we both laughed till we cried. She said, “Sammy, it’s a good thing you and I didn’t see that, your mother would have to have thrown us out of there!”
I know my grandma would have gotten a big laugh out of it, hell, I’m not so sure she didn’t do it. I think it helped that old man get over her passing. As I’d always wished, he lived another eight years after that.

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