The Funeral

“We can’t have a funeral until we put on a pot of beans,” I mutter while carrying a handful of fresh green beans from the strainer in the sink to the pot with caramelizing onions and bacon pieces sizzling away in the bottom.  I let the beans fall from my hands and a few droplets of rinse water pop and sizzle when they hit the hot bacon grease.  I turn back to the sink gathering another handful of beans and Vivian looks back at me with her seven-year-old look that says,” don’t bullshit me right now.”

“What?” I stop and say, a little more animated now, standing still as drops of rinse water fall from the beans to the floor, “people will be hungry after the funeral.  At Dad Dad’s we had ham sandwiches and chicken wings in the back of the church.  I had beer on ice in the trunk of the car. People get hungry.  And thirsty.  You feed them.”

She relents from her constant questioning about

‘when is this funeral going to happen?”, then tells me she is going upstairs to work on the casket.

“Besides,” she adds clumping her feet heavily on each stair as she ascends, “it’s only us going to be here.”

“But you never know who might stop by,” I say loudly, my voice chasing her up the stairs,  “You have to be prepared when you are having a funeral. It’s just how it is.”

It’s not that I didn’t want to get Mr. Bluefin into the ground but more to the point dinner needs to be cooking so we can eat before we have to be back at school for Lynn’s kindergarten  open house. 

I am not heartless.  I do feel for her but Mr. Blue fin is not the first fish to die at our house.  There have been others and they all had burials at sea but then I admit to myself Mr. Blue fin is different.  He has been here longer then any other animal with the exception of Maddie Dog.  He has been through thick and thin.

Vivian comes back down stairs, walks by with a little yellow plastic box in her hands and as she passes she says,  “Dad, can you open the garage? I want to get the shovel out,” she pauses, “I need to dig the grave.”

“Sure honey, I can do that,” I say gently and with a lot less sarcasm.  I pick up a dish towel and wipe my hands as I walk to the back door.  “Can I help you dig?”

“No, this is something I’ve got to do myself.” she answers with resignation.

“Where you going to put the grave?” I could just see the dog digging it up which would be far worse then the fish dying.

“Under the apple tree,” she says.

“Oh, thats a good spot in the shade and all.  That will make a good resting place,” I say in a soft voice and with the realization the dogs can’t get to the apple tree.  I open the garage then reach up for the shovel and slip it out of its holder.  I hand her the shovel and watch with my hands on my hips with the dish towel still in hand as she walks off.

As I walk up the few steps to the back door, I am glad I decided to make meatloaf this morning, it’s her one of her favorites.  I go back inside to turn the beans, turn the heat down and put a lid on it. I start work on the rest of dinner.

It occurs to me as I am peeling baby carrots Vivian has never experienced a funeral, and then as I am standing there with my mind wondering, I couldn’t remember the first funeral of which I was aware.  I am sure I went to a few funerals but I didn’t really know the person, a great uncle or aunt or something.  People so distant their death didn’t really arouse any emotion.  It had to be Grandma’s or Ken’s.  Ken was my dad’s best friend growing up.  I was as close to Ken as any uncle.  We vacationed every year with his family and got together at Christmas. He died young.

I hadn’t had much history with death.  I could only emulate what I knew or had seen, and by seen I mean on TV.  All these years later I can’t tell you how I felt at my grandma’s funeral but I can remember Ken’s.  I was supposed to feel sad so I tried my damnedest to be so.  My dad is sad.  It might be the first time he truly feels mortal.   In the back seat of my dad’s car I lean my head against the cool window and blankly star out.  It is winter and there is a cold rain.  In my head I wonder if this is how sad feels.  My button-up shirt and necktie were scratchy against my neck.

The back door slams shut.  Vivian walks into the kitchen carrying a small brightly colored bouquet of flowers.  It is a hodgepodge of different blooms from around the yard.  She sets them gently on the counter and asks to use the permative marker, she has always mispronounced permanent.

She climbs up on a bar stool at the counter.  On the little yellow box she has been carrying she writes, Mr. Blue fin, in her best handwriting.  She sorts through the flowers looking for the best ones for her bouquet.

“Hey Viv,” I start in, “I think we should go to the open house then have the funeral.  That way Mommy will be home.  I think she’ll want to be here.”

“OK.  Can you help me get Mr. blue fin out of the tank and into the casket?” she replies with a note of serenity.  I nod and answer, “Sure, whenever your ready”.

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Rusty the Rooster, A Cock of Notable Size, Is No Longer

 

(Arcadia, Indiana)  The barn yard is silent tonight. After a day of carefree sex, pecking Blackie the Rabbit on the head for eating chicken feed, and scaring the children when they try to collect the eggs, Rusty the Rooster is dead.

Long considered the venerable dean of a cadre of free range cocks, he ruled the roost with an iron spur and the swagger of an overqualified pimp. In his career, having been responsible for the care and well being of twenty hens, he was known for his short temper and violent outburst against challengers large, small, and of any species. He wrangled snakes, ate rats, and came face to face with coyotes all the while walking away to live another day.

Of intimidating size and broad girth, Rusty could be seen day-in and day-out in his suit of feathers the color of a dark moonless night.  So dark in fact, his feathers shone with the rainbow sheen of a crude oil slick. His muscular chest puffed out in pride for his flock he wandered the barnyard with a sure footed masculinity not seen since his predecessor Red.

He held many positions on the hen house floor before winning the coq au vin coin toss in which Rhode Island Red lost his head and was steeped in red wine. Now top cock, Rusty took his promotion seriously until middle life when he became an egg addict of such voraciousness he was banned from the hen house in desperate need of a spin dry. Eventually gaining control of his addiction he was let back into the hen house but it was widely known and no secret that he had occasional relapses.

His reckless lifestyle took its toll.  Loosing toes to frost bite after a long winters night out and part of his comb in an early morning scuffle with a racoon he eased into old age believing he was still in charge.  He could be heard making light of his nick name, Starting Gun, knowing he was shooting blanks and was smart enough to turn over his duties to a younger rooster without a life threatening scuffle of which he assuredly would loose.  He was at peace with his place in life.

Whether it be at sunrise, or in the middle of the night after an owl sighting, his cock-a-doodle-do carried far and wide and was sure to wake anyone within range when they least wanted to be. It was on these days everyone wished he didn’t do his job so well.

He went as peacefully as any chicken in the throws of a heart attack could. Rusty the Rooster is survived by Boots the Hen, the only hen this side of Cicero Creek to wear feather chaps, and a whole host of other nameless conquests. Services will be held at the ass crack of dawn in a private ceremony where he will be buried out by the old apple tree alongside his friend and long time companion Mr. Blue fin, the beta fish.

Rusty the Rooster is at rest and so shall we.

The Chess Game

The Chess Game

There is never a good time for bad news, but there it is, right in front of me, plain as a shadow on a sunny day.

She breaks the news the minute she is in the car. I’m trying to get her in her car seat and the buckle hasn’t even clicked when she blurts it out:

“Dad, I think I want to leave home.”

I move back, still leaning over her. I try to get her freckled little face, her blue eyes, in focus. I don’t have my glasses on. The back of the front seat keeps me from moving back far enough, so I have to squint to see just how serious this statement, this bomb, is.

No hint of a smile; if she isn’t serious, she should win an Oscar.

“Ohhh-kay,” I say.

I walk around the car and wave to Mrs. Davis, Vivian’s kindergarten teacher. I drop my chin, looking down at the pavement and smile. She cast the hook and I’m going to run with it. It’s a good opportunity to connect. Lynnie is at preschool for a couple more hours, I’ve made Vivian’s favorite, chicken noodle, for lunch, and this plan to leave home will make for good conversation over soup and crackers.

It started out as an ordinary day. We all woke up at the usual time; no crying, no wrong-side-of-the-bed. They ate their pancakes, had their juice, and were dressed and ready to go to the bus stop without any of my deep-voiced “matching socks, girls” or you need your gym shoes today”–not even the requisite “if we miss the bus…” threat. I don’t need any of those stern words, meant to teach them that a sense of urgency is sometimes necessary, because for once they got ready before they started playing. Actually, I guess it started as an extraordinary day.

Now, on the way home from school, Vivian and I ride in silence. I’m trying to figure out where this “leaving home” thing is coming from, and she, I am sure, is using the silence as a negotiating tool, to bring her opponent to the table first. It is a short drive home, and I decide not to bring it up again. It’s up to Vivian.

As I open the screen door to the house, I get a good whiff of the chicken stock on the stove. I mention that I made chicken-noodle soup for lunch and ask if she would like a bowl.

“Oh, not now, Daddy–I need to pack,” she says.

“It’s hot and yummy, and you’re going to need your strength,” I reply. Besides, you have plenty of time.”

She consents to lunch.  Continue reading →