The morning dawned cloudy and mizzling. I took care of the kitties and got dressed, then drove over to mom’s an hour ahead of time (we had to be there early). My dad’s niece EL and her husband came by and picked us up in their rental car, a very nice black Dodge Avenger, and drove us to the cemetery. (It didn’t occur to me until just now to wonder if they deliberately picked a black car in view of the occasion, or if it was just an ironic twist on the luck of the draw.) They had been caught at the airport by the storm the night before and were “trapped” for a while in their rental car at the car rental agency because the rain had been coming down so hard and fast that visibility was too poor to risk trying to drive in it. (Large areas of town had received almost 2 inches of rain in less than an hour and 7 feet of water had collected at the underpass where University Avenue goes under the Marsha Sharp Freeway.)
It was very comfortable car, and having them take us meant that mom didn’t have to worry about driving, which was a blessing to her. En route, we saw stark evidence of just how violent the storm yesterday evening had been as we passed this business, which is located on the southeast corner of 34th Street and Indiana Avenue. A lightning strike had crumpled one end of the awning. Their church, where the memorial service was held, is located on the southeast corner of 33rd and Indiana.
We were about 20 minutes early but the funeral director was already there. There were only very shallow puddles down the center of the mausoleum parking lot which is next to where their plot is, and we were able to park in an area where the pavement was not only dry but which was right next to the grave site. Mom had been worrying that it was going to rain during the graveside service, but just as we were getting out of the car, the clouds thinned and we could see the sky. Rays of sunshine began to peek out of the clouds. The timing was almost eerie.
They had a little sign holder on a pole stuck into the ground with a laminated sign board that had Dad’s name on it (to the right of the right-hand flag), and since dad was a veteran, there were two flags on little flag poles set out in line with the canopy. The casket was already in place on the lowering device, which had a green cloth skirt around it, and the area all around it was covered with a green ground cloth that extended under the canopy. Folding chairs were set out in three rows, and each chair had a green cloth cover over the back and seat. Because of all the rain we’ve had over the last weeks, the grass and trees of the cemetery were all lush and intensely green. (This cemetery does not permit headstones or raised memorial markers. All the grave markers are set flush with the ground. Only flower containers are allowed to project above ground level. This gives the cemetery an almost park-like feel) There are lovely oak trees on the west of the grave (see above), and just to the east, shading it, are a line of big cedar trees. The area is a haven for the birds.
Just my mother and I, my brother and his wife, CL and her husband and youngest daughter, EL and her husband, CK and DK (the dear family friends who had hosted my mom’s 90th birthday party this past Sunday), RP, the son of another long-time family friend, the pastor and the associate pastor were present. The funeral director took my mom’s arm and escorted her to her seat, as the grass beneath the ground cloth was thick and the footing was uncertain. My mom, I, my brother and his wife were seated in the first row, with the others taking their seats in the rows behind us.
The service was simple and brief, with some appropriate scripture and a concluding prayer. We were encouraged to lay our hand on the casket top as we filed past, a parting touch, a farewell caress.
At the entrance of the cemetery, as we waited for traffic to clear so we could turn into the street, my mom broke down for a moment. “I can’t believe I have to go away and leave him here,” she said through her tears. The finality of our loss had gripped us all at that point.
Those family members who had been at the graveside service gathered in the church parlor. The funeral home had brought the flowers over, and the beautiful spray of sunflowers, gladiolas and roses from the law firm (see left) where mother had worked for so many years had been placed in the narthex to greet those coming for the service, and the other flowers were in the parlor, with the exception of the spray of red roses from my mother’s youngest surviving brother, which was in the sanctuary.
Shortly after after we had all gathered in the parlor, we were joined by my mother’s nephew JP, who had made the 4-1/2-hour drive from his home outside of Capitan, New Mexico, to attend the service. My mother was especially close to his mother, her eldest sister, and has known him all his life. It meant a great deal to her that he was able to attend. When the service was ready to begin, the pastor led us to our pews. In the chancel, the funeral home had placed HJ’s spray of red roses (see below), and beside it the folded flag that had been draped on my dad’s casket at the viewing which they had set atop a columnar pedestal. (I desperately wanted a photo of this, but by the time I could get back to photograph it, the funeral home had already remove the flag and pedestal!)
The bulletin for the service had my father’s picture with an abbreviated obituary on the left-hand page of the spread, and the order of worship on the right hand page. My mother did not want a long service. The order of worship she chose was concise and simple, opening with a prayer, then the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy,” which my mom had picked. This was followed by the Old Testament reading, which was the 23rd Psalm, and then Psalm 100 (which was my dad’s favorite), and the New Testament reading, Romans 8:28-39, and John 14:1-7. The second hymn was “Be Thou My Vision” which was my dad’s favorite hymn. (The original old Irish Gaelic text is often attributed to Saint Dallán Forgaill in the 6th century, hence the beautiful Gaelic version above, which I dearly love.)
The pastor provided a “meditation,” celebrating my dad’s life and then “The Lord’s Prayer” was sung by a baritone soloist, MS, from the church music ministry to the accompaniment of the church’s pipe organ, which is a beautiful instrument. (My father, a member of the church choir for over 50 years, — until he could no longer see well enough to read music — had sung this same solo himself on several occasions. My 90-year-old mother still sings in the choir every Sunday as she has done for nearly 60 years now.) I made it through the second hymn pretty well, but that last solo did me in, as I knew it would.
It was unfortunate that a number of long-time friends were out of town this week, but as the news of my father’s passing spread throughout the network of friends, those who could not attend called to express their sympathy, as well as their regret and disappointment at not being able to attend the memorial service. However, their church sanctuary has equipment in place which allows them to record church services (as well as musical concerts) which they do routinely as a ministry to the home-bound members of the congregation. Mother had requested that the memorial service be recorded and copies on CD were provided for us. (I know at some point mom will want me to show her how to play the CD on their CD player or on her computer, and I’m sure I will be downloading it to my computer and either emailing or making CD copies of it, too — which I will gladly do.)
Following the service, we gathered in the parlor and received those who wished to personally express their sympathy. (It was while we were in the receiving line that the funeral home spirited away their pedestal and the flag! — but I do not begrudge in the slightest the time spent greeting so many family friends and hearing their expressions of sympathy and memories of my dad. You cannot be a part of any such group of people for over half a century without becoming intertwined in so many lives.)
Some of the women of the church had prepared a meal for our family and a few friends. Mom’s nephew JP was able to stay and eat with us, but unfortunately, he had to leave shortly afterward in order to return home as they live out in the country and he does not want his wife and 92-year-old mother-in-law there alone after dark. Mom has been unable to visit them for the past several years since my dad’s vision deteriorated and he began having such a hard time getting around and caring for himself. It’s not that far a drive. I think mom and I may be heading that way in the not-to-distant future.
After lunch, we adjourned back to mom’s house. I had boxed up keepsakes for both dad’s nieces to take home with them: Dad’s sister’s toy tea set for EL, pieces of crochet and cut work that dad’s mother had done and a table cloth for CL that dad’s mother had crocheted the motifs for and my mother’s father’s sister had put together (how often do you get an interfamilial heirloom like that?). I thought it fair that she should have that one as mother had given the pineapple motif tablecloth dad’s mom had crocheted for her as a wedding gift to EL. I also wanted CL’s family to have some Czech footed tulip beer glasses I brought back from Germany in the 1970’s and there was a pillow I needle pointed that I wanted the girls to have.
I promised them I would do a blog post about the table cloth and put pictures of both women in it with their full names, etc. (next week). That way they will have the story that makes it so much more than just an antique, hand-crocheted tablecloth. So many times the objects get handed down, but the stories that put them in context become garbled or lost completely over the years, and subsequent generations are deprived of the history that made those objects into family treasures. I also took the girls’ pictures holding the tablecloth — and now that I think about it, I may even have the motif pattern for it somewhere.
After they left, mom apportioned the food they had sent home from the church with us, and sent some home with me, as it was much more than one person could eat. It was almost 6 o’clock after a very long and tiring day when I got home.
21 August, 1922 – 22 September 2014