Count me as old-fashioned, but I don’t think it’s normal for guests to invite random people to your grandmother’s funeral. And yet, in Northern Arkansas, this seems to be ok.
“Well get dressed and come on down. They have plenty of food,” said the woman who sat across the table from me. Whoever she was on the phone with needed some convincing.
“You’ve already had your nap. So just come,” the lady continued.
I had no idea who this lady was nor the person she was talking with on the phone. And I’m pretty sure she didn’t know who I was. Or maybe she did and is asserting her dominance?
I’m not sure, but the lady hung up her phone to join the conversation with the people to her right. They all agreed that “Might as well be a Democrat,” was a wonderful insult. I couldn’t help it, I started laughing, not that they noticed. They had their plates of food.
And for the record, there wasn’t enough food at the celebration of life for my grandmother. The hall had run out and so my wife and I waited, and waited, and waited. Eventually, they brought out some plain spaghetti so I could at least eat.
The funeral itself had happened just fine if you enjoy obituaries being read out loud. Did it bother me that the pastor didn’t read the official obit that I had written? Probably. But I like to see the humor no matter where I am. And although I was sad, I could see the story taking place right in my head.
It began with the pastor calling the wrong funeral home to come get my grandmother without talking to her family first. After I calmed my mother down, I used my keen detective skills to eventually find her and get her transferred the next day to the place where we had a pre-arranged burial.
The pastor was apparently an old friend of my grandmother although I had never heard my grandma mention the lady in over 47 years I’ve been alive. But it’s hard for me to be angry at kindness. Besides, things were working out. Kind of.
“We will start the service with a singing of Wings Beneath My Wings,” The pastor said two seconds before the best of Beth Midler rang out on a spotty PA system. I don’t remember any of the family agreeing to this at all. But you know what, the pastor seemed to be having a good time so I let it go. Now, the two other songs and the prayer to have everyone baptized into the Lutheran Church might have been a bit overboard.
I have termed this type of behavior as aggressive kindness, and it’s a bit overwhelming. Look, I know the funeral was taking place in rural Arkansas. Here, things work a bit different. I spent some time growing up in a small town like this. Funerals are social events, and a chance for people to come together. The whole town is invited because invariably, they all know each other. So, I understand that this funeral was more for them than it was for my family. But, be that as it may, I do think it’s appropriate at the reception to reserve seats for the family. Which did not happen.
For about 20 minutes, I walked around the banquet hall to see if there were any chairs available. My mother was on one end with her friend, my brother at a different table, and my sister and her family were kind of just mixed in. Eventually, I went and got a couple of chairs from a storage closet and put them on the end of a table so at least my kids could be next to their cousins. My wife and I took the last two seats left, at a random table with people who didn’t like liberals but felt fine inviting long lost loves.
“This didn’t work as I expected,” the pastor said to me as I finally got a chance to get in line for the buffet.
“Oh, I’m sure it’s fine,” I said because I do believe in southern hospitality.
“People looked hungry, so I told them to go ahead and eat,” she said.
“Makes sense,” I said.
“I’m sure they’ll bring out more food.”
You know, I would also think that the family should start the buffet services before everyone else. I mean, not to push it home, but this is the kind of moment that I would like to be near my family and have no stress. Aggressive kindness can be a lot. I’m not knocking her effort, but you know, maybe next time wait until my mom welcomes everyone, and I can give her a hug?
Not that it really mattered. I stood in line as across the hall I watched a man in an apron open the top of the soda machine and begin stabbing its innards. Apparently, they had run out of ice and went down to the local gas station and got some more. Which quickly melted in the 105-degree heat and then refroze. The man looked very determined.
Eventually, as you know, I got my spaghetti and sat down next to my wife.
“Why aren’t you eating?” I asked her. Her ¾ full salad sat lonely in front of her.
“My plastic fork broke a tine, and it’s somewhere in the salad. I don’t want to risk it.”
“Good call,” I said.
It was then that I looked up and noticed that people were making their way to the cakes my wife and I had brought. The problem is that no one was serving it, nor had there been any announcement. I can put up with a lot, and I try to go with the flow. But lack of organization really gets to me. But even more importantly, it gets to my wife.
She got up and began to cut cake. I joined her with an extra knife. The reception had begun at 5 on the dot, which in Arkansas time means 4:30. I didn’t know that, so completely my fault. My wife and I went back to our Airbnb and picked up the specialty cakes and glorious cookies we had made for the occasion.
And as I cut the cakes we brought, I noticed how out of place they looked with the HUGE Walmart cake right in the middle. A straight sheet cake that someone thought was a good idea. Which is fine, but the cake had a portrait of my grandmother right in the middle. Call me old fashioned, but the idea of cutting my grandma’s head off and presenting it to the lady on the phone just kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
So as my wife and I outlined the picture of my grandma and served cake, it was now that the pastor thought a short speech from the family was in order.
My mother took the stage and I’m sure what she said was very heart warming and touching. I didn’t really hear it because I was answering questions such as “Why did you buy lemon cake? I don’t like lemon cake?” or “Are these cakes gluten free?”
At this point, I was about done. The party was to last another 2 hours, but I was pretty sure no one would mind if I took my family out for our own private time. I hugged my mom, and my family, and set my teenagers loose. They were very grateful.
The rest of my family made it about another 30 minutes before meeting us back at our rental. And while the town danced to the live band and probably tore the arms off cake grandma, I finally got the family connection time that I needed.
I’m not sad that my grandmother is gone. I have 47 wonderful years of memories with her. She was the example of determined and reliant that I have always tried to live up to. And for that, I am extremely grateful. I will miss her, I’m sure. But when I do, I’ll have the memories of a woman that made me always feel at home.
And then I’ll tell the story of attending an Arkansas Funeral, and how they boot-scooted all night long.