A Proxy Funeral

"I've been in the business 29 years," the funeral director said, "and I have never had this happen before."

Daddy didn't make it to his own funeral. He died over 3 weeks ago in Florida and was cremated 2 weeks ago there. He was to be sent certified mail with the grand and glorious United States Postal Service to the funeral home in Butler, PA, where the funeral was held today. Apparently, the funeral home in Florida didn't put him in the mail right away, but there is proof that he was handed over. But the USPS has no idea where the ashes currently are. They are not in Butler. They are not in Pittsburgh. They are not in Jacksonville. They just don't know. Call again tomorrow. As they have been saying for days.

This would have irritated Daddy no end, as he liked to be on time. Luckily, we had a poster board with a lot of pictures so that we at least had something. And the obituary had been printed in the local newspaper as planned, although we did rather think it would be a waste of money. Imagine our surprise, when in addition to the children, grandchildren and cousins two neighbors of my grandmother came, a good friend of my aunt with her husband, and two guys who knew Daddy in grade school and high school.

So we held a memorial service, with music, even though no one sang much except "Amazing Grace" at the end. I gave the eulogy, one brother read the poem "Flare" by Mary Oliver, the other told some good stories, and two of the granddaughters also stood up to say something, which pretty much had everyone in tears.

And then we were at a loss. We had planned on taking the ashes in the car to the little village where he was born and scattering the ashes on the acre he still owned there. But there were no ashes. We decided to drive out anyway. We parked at a neighbors and walked around the wet and snowy field. We reminisced about the place, and then drove on in search of lunch.

The first place was closed, but the municipal airport hat a little eatery. We all had typical local food (I had a Rueben sandwich with some really good coleslaw) and a good visit with the cousins. After lunch they headed home, and we drove around a bit more. We drove slowly past the farm, and the house I grew up in. We toured the village down by the creek, me hopping out to make pictures. Then we climbed the hill on Meridian road and headed out to look for our grandparents' graves. We found the cemetery, and there was even someone there to give us the exact coordinates. The graves were covered with snow, but we found them.

I was struck at how much this part of the world resonated with something deep inside me. This is the place I come from, my home country. There is something here that is me, even though much has changed since I lived here. I even find myself slipping into the local dialect: "yinz", "root-8" (for Route 8, although I of course say "rout 66"), "spigot", "sahrkraht". Oh my, there's even a Wikipedia entry on the dialect! And a page dedicated to Myron Cope, the sportscaster I loved to listen to, on Pittsburghese.

So if Daddy ever gets found by the post office, I'll be back home for burying the ashes.

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