Today is the funeral for Fourteen and Sixteen’s mom. It’s here at the church, and I’ve been busy with lots of little jobs. I set up the guest book table, for instance, and then went and picked up the guest book and funeral folders from the funeral home. I also killed thirty two crickets and picked up their nasty cricket bodies in crumpled paper towels. There’s an assload of crickets lately.

My mom’s in the kitchen overseeing a grill full of frying ham. She also brought eight quarts of home-canned greenbeans in the boxes my cat’s food comes in. Other women are wrapping up their homemade rolls in foil and brewing coffee and stirring sugar into tea and pouring ranch and russian dressing into little pitchers and tsk tsking over whoever made scalloped potatoes from a mix instead actual potatoes and cream of something soup. There are more desserts than you can shake a stick at.

Every few minutes one of the church ladies reminds the pastor that we must must must not have a repeat of Miz Martin’s funeral. He invited all the funeral’s attendees to stay after for dinner, instead of just the family, and we ran out of pie, and someone had to go out for store-bought ones. Our Kind of Mainline Protestants should never run out of pie, particularly not in front of the Baptists. It was terrible. People still talk.

There is this almost cheerful industry in the church today, the festive air of food in the oven and women with dish towels tied around their waists so as not to spoil their church clothes. One woman sings under her breath as she tosses the salad. No one has forgotten the funeral that’s a few minutes away. No one has forgotten that a woman’s ashes are resting on the little wooden table we serve Holy Communion from. Instead, we are all happy to be busy during this time, to finally have thought of something to do.

I think about all the funerals I’ve been to. My family is large and mostly elderly. Throughout my youth and into my adulthood, they seemed to die at a rate of about one every six months or so. Sometimes they’ve died at ripe old ages that made us talk about the richness of their lives in the same terms we use for farmland or the houses they built, and we’ve chuckled at stories of their bad tempers and bad hairdos. We’ve all stood and sung in hearty voices that they’ve found rest just over in that glory land. Sometimes folks die younger and from things like cancer or homicide or a farming accident and we keep our voices low and look at the palms of our hands and whisper into each other’s ears.

As I run in and out of the kitchen in pursuit of a tablecloth that isn’t too wrinkled, I think of all these church ladies, sometimes strangers from churches in other small towns, who have tidied up the church and cooked the dinner for a funeral of someone I loved. I think about the potatoes gleaming and slick with butter and boxed cakes with boiled icing and the complicated jello salads and all the second helpings forced upon me.

This is my love for you and my sorrow at your sorrow, it seems to me they’re saying. Please take a little bit more until there’s something else I can do for you.

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