In 1962, your family status within the clan determined the order of the funeral procession. Then, as now, large families held great store in assigned order, because one’s rank in the procession reflected both status and the deceased’s love and/or regard for the passengers in question. As I recall, we were the third car in line behind the hearses, ceding status to Aunt Doris’ son, Chuck, and daughter, Joanne, who chose to drive their own cars rather than spend the money for another hearse, but certainly in front of Uncle George, Aunt Marion, Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Ed, who lived in California now and seldom came to visit, although I think we might have been bumped to fourth had Aunt Shirley not passed away herself a year previous.
A man tapped Daddy’s window and he rolled it down far enough for a pair of lips to appear in the slit. “I have your funeral flag… roll down your window and I’ll hand it to you.” Through the fogged moisture, I could recognize the form of a man dressed completely in black trying to force a small blue flag through the open slit. For his part, my father chose to call out in a voice I recall being much louder than necessary, “You want a flag on my aerial, you put it on yourself!” and crank the window shut. I don’t know what affect it has on familial status to be the only car in a funeral procession without a blue flag.
I don’t recall the exact date, lo these many years afterward, but I do remember vividly that it was a Monday, the day after Memorial Day, in an era when holidays were still held on Sundays and television had not yet felt the necessity to provide us with a visual account of the proceedings at every sports event being conducted on the North American continent. I’m sure it was the day after Memorial Day because Daddy had the radio tuned to the Indianapolis 500, the race having been rained out the day previous. As our somber procession sloshed the seven miles from church to the Eastlawn Cemetery located on Aurora’s east side, my parents played the game
"It’s too loud"
"No, it isn’t"
"Can’t you show a little respect?"
"She can’t hear us, Betty"
"I don’t care, it wouldn’t hurt you to—"
"Touch the knob again and you can ride with Bonnie"
as fingers competed for superiority in their attempts to turn the volume knob up and/or down.
On occasion, I’ve tried to assess time’s passage and equate it with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and I’m still not sure that a second is a second is a second. However, I do know that when most of the available air in a confined space such as a car’s interior has been sucked out of that space, leaving in its wake a chill capable of adequately suspending rigor mortis, a second takes on a duration more closely approaching a minute. From that point on, only the sound of muted engines and an announcer detailing the race’s progress filled the airways. Even Momma’s sobbing ceased rather than let my father think that he’d won… if rage could be registered on a meter, the front passenger seat would have blown it up.
You see, my friends, Doris and Momma were close. Now, there’s close and there’s close. Throughout their lives, these sisters maintained a presence that Siamese twins would have envied. On more than one occasion, I’d heard my father quip that if one farted the other would call to see if she needed some antacid.
As we came to a stop on the road closest to graveside, the rain let up, as though God took pity on us all. Personally, I think Aunt Doris put the request in, just so Momma would still look pretty, even in her grief. Daddy had to help her make her way to the grave, and as often as I’ve found fault with his conduct, such was his tenderness that day that the Pope would pale by comparison.
The priest anointed the casket with Holy Water and made the Sign of the Cross, and the rain began anew, mingling its water with tears, washing away sorrow along with any iniquity that the prayers might have evoked in someone’s conscience.
For a little boy sitting in the back seat, the trip home was very short—even without a broadcast of the Indianapolis 500.