Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Zero Weddings and a Funeral

Up until Monday morning, I hadn't been to a funeral since 1999. So the one I went to on Monday was a different experience for me. You know, compared to my extremely important day-to-day New York life: dodging Murray Hillettes in their Vuitton and Razrs, speaking reverently about Gawker, and drinking...heavily.

There aren't that many complimentary things that you can say about funerals, other than, "The funeral home did a nice job" or "Wasn't that a nice eulogy" or "Those flowers are very tasteful." But what I loved this past weekend was sitting with the old folks in the back of the room at the visitation. I chose a seat next to Grandma G., a sprightly blue-haired woman with piercing gray eyes and a quick wit. She introduced me to everyone she knew, ending each mini monologue with, "She flew here from New York." We sat among her two older brothers and their wives.

Before I go further, here's the thing about funerals: The old folks know the score. After all, they're veterans. They've been there, done that. They don't need no stinking hanky. Chances are, many of their friends have died. So they're the ones sitting in the back, making quiet jokes with one another, and probably mentally noting that the casket isn't nearly as nice as Francis's was back in '98.

I met Grandma G.'s brother, Uncle Hiney, and the first thing he said when he saw me was, "Hey, good lookin'!" A grandson of his whispered conspiratorially in my ear: "You have to watch out for Uncle Hiney. He likes young ladies." Uncle Hiney immediately asked me how old I thought he was. I paused. I didn't know whether to offend him or flatter him. Frankly, I had no frame of reference for ages past 55, other than my mother's parents, who are still alive well into their 80s. "Seventy-five?" I asked, aiming way low. Uncle Hiney positively laughed. "I'm 89!" he said. (Everything Uncle Hiney said was jubilant, thus the exclamation marks. Grandma G. chimed in: "And he still farms." Sure enough, Uncle Hiney, in his flannel shirt and skin mottled from the Oklahoma sun, rides his tractor every day. "That's what keeps me young," he said.

My crew of old folks got especially rowdy when they discovered I looked like another young woman at the visitation. "She favors Chad's wife," they all murmured together, nodding and repeating it to each other. And even after they all agreed that I looked like her, they wouldn't let well enough alone. "Chad!" they called. "Bring your wife over here." A slight blonde woman around my age holding the cutest fat baby I've ever seen approached us. I thought she was pretty. "Let's get a picture!" Uncle Hiney said. And his wife took our picture -- me and this complete stranger who happened to look somewhat like me -- in the middle of my uncle's visitation. They all clapped and cheered. I loved it.

I thought that was the end of my Uncle Hiney experience until I saw him right before the funeral the next day. We recognized each other and waved. He called me over to him. "How am I going to send you that picture if I don't have your address?" he asked, pulling a tiny notepad and pen out of his shirt pocket. I opened the note book to find a few numbers written on the first page. "Should I write it here?" I asked. Uncle Hiney looked away and then back at me. "I do a little gambling," he said. I laughed out loud and wrote my address on the next page. I know Uncle Hiney will write to me, and frankly, I can't wait to get his letter and send him one in return.

I recounted this story to the Boyf yesterday, to which the Boyf replied, "He got your digits!"

He's right. At 89 years of age, Uncle Hiney managed to finagle an address out of a cute blond thing at a funeral. And that's the positive memory about this past weekend that's guaranteed to make me smile, in the midst of everything else.


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