Friday, June 20, 2008

The Funeral, Part 2

It had never been that hot in Millpond. A bunch of old ladies were standing around outside the church fanning themselves with funeral programs and arguing about when the last time it had been that hot was. One said in the 40s. Another said it got hot in the 50s. My grandmother's friend said it was definitely this hot in 1976. I was two and a half in 1976 but I remember bits of the bicentennial and it wasn't this hot. I wanted to settle the argument for them. It has never been this hot in Millpond. It was, at ten in the morning, a hundred degrees.

Millpond isn't exactly a cool place. It's swampy low country and even though it's surrounded by water it's surrounded by stagnant water that never seems to move. I rarely remember breezes during my childhood. I remember a lot of mosquito bites. Horseflies. Haze. We never had air conditioning in the house so we opened windows and used fans. Summer sounds like a fan, like locusts and freight trains far off in the distance. Sometimes late at night I would hear car accidents on country roads where cars hit phone poles. Then I would hear the fire whistle which was blowing when Bella and I pulled up to the church and walked past the old ladies arguing and fanning themselves. One had even gone so far as to pleat the program so it looked like a real fan. I remember learning how to do that in first grade. For a while I made fans out of everything.

First we had a private viewing for just the family. I was disturbed by this. I like how the Jewish religion handles this sort of thing a lot better. Jewish people have to be buried in 24 hours in a pine box. There is no fawning over a body. There is no dressing up a body, embalming it, kissing it or talking to it. It goes in the ground and then the people who are still living mourn and talk and share for a week afterwards. The way I see it a body is not a person once the spirit leaves. It's a waste product. The body is like a spacesuit for the soul. It gives us what we need to experience this reality and then when it's done we cast it off. To me, a body is a thing and without a spirit I don't want any part of it and frankly, it creeps me out to decorate it and touch it and have discussions with it. Also, and I have been to a lot of funerals, every dead body I have ever seen looks nothing like the person did when they were alive. They look waxy and strange and there's always something funny about the mouth that doesn't sit well with me. Is this just me?

So there was a great controversy about my not wanting to view the body. I explained that my last memory of Pop was so perfect that I didn't want anything replacing it. Everyone threw a fit. Since my family already thinks I am crazy and a pain in the ass with all sorts of bohemian ideas doing God knows what living in Florida (probably selling drugs because that's all anyone does in Florida) I decided to just give in. Mainly I did this because I knew it wouldn't kill me and because I didn't want my grandmother any more upset than she was. But first I had to prepare myself. So I stood in the hallway for a while with the funeral director who thought I was in high school. I guess this is a compliment but I wanted to take my high heeled shoe off and smack her with it for being so patronizing. Then I watched all of my relatives going through the same motions of trying not to cry as Bella and I had done.

The Hollands are a bunch of hard asses; a family who does not ever, no matter what, give in to frivolous displays of emotion. At least they weren't until my generation, but we'll get to that. I also noticed that we're a family of very dominant women and somewhat passive, quiet men. I mentioned the not crying thing to Bella and we agreed that's where we got it from. We must have been taught somewhere that it's not OK to cry. Pop was a service man after all. Maybe he instilled some military discipline into us all. I only saw Pop cry once and it was over me. At funerals his eyes never even got watery. It's like there's a pride that comes from controlling one's emotions so absolutely, but I don't think it's healthy. It's probably why we're all crazy to varying degrees. You have to let it out once in a while.

In the back of my mind I had been dreading the inevitable having to see my biological father. I haven't seen him since 2004 and by the verb "seen" I mean that literally. I "saw" him from a distance in 2004 but had no interaction. I don't remember the last time I spoke to him. I mean that literally too. "Seeing" him makes me nervous. He creeps me out. I also knew that he had just lost his wife and had up and run off to do missionary work in Africa and had recently returned from that. You see, my biological father is a Baptist missionary, but his views are so radical that he goes to an independent church that is not affiliated with any type of national Baptist organization. We normal people would define this as a cult. The best way I can describe him, and really I don't even know him all that well, is that he is like an angry, bitter robot for Jesus. Who is bald and has a moustache. Whenever I've seen him he's just spouting off about Jesus and faith and being saved and loving the Lord and Hallelujah and all the stuff his church brainwashed him into saying.

You can't trust him at any function because he's always busting out with the Creepy Jesus. I have to make a distinction. There is normal people's Jesus who is nice and carries lambs around in his arms and was born on Christmas and rose at Easter and loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow black and white. This Jesus is welcome and appropriate at weddings and funerals and at Thanksgiving grace. But then we have the Creepy Jesus who has a terrible chip on his shoulder and wants to boss us around to no end and throw us all in a flaming hell pit. Creepy Jesus seems to ignore the whole rest of the Bible and focuses solely on the Book of Revelations. I swear I don't think my biological father even cares about the rest of the New Testament which is all PG rated and full of lilies and sheep and fisherman. He just likes to skip straight to Revelations which is like Apocalypse Now combined with The Exorcist. Everywhere Ronald Holland goes he wants to "save" people and indoctrinate them into the Cult of the Creepy Jesus. How I owe half of my biology to a person like this I shall never understand. I try to imagine him doing missionary work in third world countries. I'm sure he doesn't do any damage and I hope the relief work he does outweights the Creepy Jesus aspects of it. I imagine the poor, heathens he witnesses to are all like: "Yeah ok YES JESUS LOVES ME now give me some rice and clean water white man. I'll take a vaccination while you're at it. Amen."

Standing in the hallway I asked Bella's dad, "Where is Ronald?"

"He said he'd try to make it."

It was at this moment that I had a profound, life altering epiphany. I always knew my biological father was an idiot but it was always like I was sort of in denial thinking that my perceptions were distorted and maybe it was really me in some way or that I couldn't trust my memory and maybe I had somehow made it up. I don't know. Troubled childhoods make you not trust yourself sometimes, but here was the evidence and the proof. Ronald Holland, my biological father, was a fucking asshole.

How exactly does one "try to make it" to one's own father's funeral? How? I can see it only if one had a father as horrible as he is, but Pop was an outstanding father and grandfather and a honorary man, who was of course not without fault, but was overall a hell of a lot better than most people and certainly a hell of a lot better than his youngest son, especially when it comes to fatherhood. I don't know why Ronald had resentment towards Pop, but he clearly did. And it makes him an asshole. The reason he gave for "trying to make it" was that he had to drop two of his kids off at summer camp or something so I guess that was a priority over their grandfather's funeral? Great values. I'm sure Creepy Jesus is mighty proud.

I decided to go stand outside for a while and Bella and I found our other first cousins, the sisters Sandy and Lou who are both extraordinary human beings. I love them all more than you can even think about all at one time. I love them so much that when thinking about how much I love my cousins you have to think about it three or four times to fit it all in. I was so happy to see them. Red birds were flying all around in and out of the trees around us and it was even hotter.

"This has been a horrible week," Sandy said.

"I know," I agreed.

"NO this is a particularly horrible week for me," Sandy repeated, "I'm so stressed out."
"We all are," I said.

"DID YOU NOT TELL HER????" Sandy said to Bella, just about knocking her down on the sidewalk.

"I didn't know if you wanted her to know," Bella said.

"We have a lot of catching up to do," Sandy said, "My court date is Monday."

"Court date?" I asked.

"Get your asses inside!" Sandy told her husband and sons.

"I allegedly assaulted Pendejo's girlfriend and that bitch had me arrested but I didn't do it," she explained once they were in.

"Have you renamed your husband Pubic Hair?" I asked.

"Yes I have."

Pop rolls over in his coffin upon hearing this and spills white roses all over the church floor.

My cousin, in a very difficult time has managed to make me unbearably happy. I start cracking up, which was totally inappropriate and as we are standing there a pair of mockingbirds gets into a big fight.

"Jeez, those mockingbirds are always fighting," I mentioned, "They are the meanest birds."

Then I realized that what I had believed all my life to be fighting was actually crazy mockingbird kinky sex. Mockingbirds are everywhere in Millpond. I don't know why but mockingbirds love the town. Maybe it's all the trees. When I was little I used to see the birds behaving in this manner - flying at one another, chasing around, making all sorts of racket and with great bravado and Mommom and Pop told me they were fighting. They were actually mating. At least these ones were. So it was over a hundred degrees, my cousin ALLEGEDLY kicked her husband's girlfriend's ass or something (I still haven't figured this one out), renamed her husband Pendejo, which no one in the family knows the meaning of except me and Sandy, so now everyone is calling him that, which is freaking hilarious, mockingbirds are mating with wild abandon and then my biological father drives up in what can only be described as your stereotypical B-movie serial killer van.

You should have seen this thing. It was old, red and beat up. It apparently had no AC because all the windows were down. It had faded patches and there were probably Creepy Jesus bumper stickers all over the back of it but I didn't look so I can't say for sure although I'd be willing to bet dinner at Red Lobster on it. The van just looked pitiful. It looked like the van of a person who strains under the pressure of having five kids, no wife and needs something he can barely afford to drive them all around in that he sincerely hopes will make it to the grocery store. It also looks like the car of someone who doesn't care about stuff and probably gives a lot of money to his church. Seriously, it was just sad. I can barely even make fun of it. And then he got out and he looked exactly like the kind of person who would be driving such a thing.

My first impression was "Wow, he hasn't bought any new clothes since I was little because oh my God, I remember this outfit." High waisted pants, wide tie, short sleeve button up shirt. He looked exactly like he could be in the Beastie Boys "Sabotage" video, moustache and all. Pitiful and not scary at all. He just looked like a small, confused, bitter, sorry little person. And I thought "I must be extraordinarily intimidating to this man." So I turned, grabbed Sandy's arm and walked into the church.


Anonymous said...

Wow. I think we might be related. Doesn't pendejo also mean asshole? Because if it doesn't, I accidentally called someone a pubic hair the other day. Although either would work for him...

Anonymous said...

I was there and this still made me almost pee my pants! I love reading how you re-tell the story. I miss you tremendously and will talk to you soon.


staticwarp said...

what sect does your biological father belong to? The Church Of Creepy Jesus Of End Of Days Saints?

Anonymous said...

This was very touching.. and entertaing, not sure how you did both. I feel you pain of losing your grandfather, mine is 92 now and still stubborn as a mule, he's German (if that explains anthing). Today I caught him in basement of condo washing his own clothes two days before cleaning lady would have been there to do it.... well now he has 30 pairs of clean shorts, instead of the 20 that were already in his closet.

Anonymous said...

Please tell us there is more to this story!

You write so well. Your life stories are so well, I'm not sure what the right word is to describe what I read from you on a daily basis ... entertaining? tragic? hysterical? sad?

You are what I would term a true wordsmith.

Anonymous said...

You're a genius when it comes to writing.

Great story. Can't believe how lucky we are to get to read your blog for free!

Kelly Hudgins said...

You are really good. And so is this piece. And I'm from a wacky southern family (spent my childhood going to waxy-faced open casket funerals), so I'm qualified to tell. Take this one to Iowa, clean it up, and send it out. Really.

Anonymous said...

Do you ever feel like those commenting are also having a few drinks to relax? From the comments, it seems like you could tell any story and it might not come out close to anything they remember reading. Sounds like a nice funeral though. At my mom's, my stepfather's elderly people pointed at me and sister (the only child they had together and said extremely loudly, because they were deaf,) "Are those his stepchildren that he HAD to raise?" Nothing like some stranger making you feel bad when your mom just died.

girlnextdoor said...

Yes, "pendejo" means asshole. I don't know if you and your cousin have a secret meaning, but as a fluent spanish speaker I can say, I've never heard of it meaning pubic hair.

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