Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Funeral Tour 2006-07

People view death in a myriad of ways, but essentially it is a pretty straightforward circumstance we all face. Funerals, however, bear the uniqueness that is inherent in the family or the culture of the deceased. I’ve been to a LOT of funerals and I have been exposed to them since I was a very small child.

The first person I remember passing away was my Uncle Spencer. He was on my father’s side of the family and he was married to my Aunt Fannie Sue. Yes, those are their real names. I remember that their house was uneven and it had a big potbelly stove in the living room that would burn wood and keep the house warm. The floor in the living room slanted towards the weight of the pot-bellied stove and my mother was always fearful that my rambunctiousness was going to one day send me headlong into the stove and I would burn myself. My uncle Spencer was bald-headed and he always intrigued me because he could put his index finger into his cheek and make a “popping” sound that would make me belly laugh. He passed away before I was even in kindergarten and I was too young to go to the funeral, even though I went to the visitation. But my mother and father assured me that he was now in heaven making popping noises for Jesus.

My grandfather on my Dad’s side was the first funeral I attended. Granddaddy Bell was a bald man who refused to have his picture made. I think his baldhead always bothered him. He had a great sense of humor and always got the best presents at Christmas. His brother and he always exchanged some type of gag gift or toy with each other, and I thought it was more fun to play with the toys that he got, than the toys that I would get. I remember going to see Granddaddy Bell in the hospital just a few days before he passed away, and Mom and Dad had determined that I was old enough now (in the first grade) to attend the funeral, and more importantly, the visitation.

I was lectured, I am sure, to be on my best behavior. Not to interrupt people who are talking and to only whisper. I don’t know if my brain fully wrapped around the whisper idea, especially since the person we were appreciating was dead already. But I did my best. I sat facing my grandfather’s open casket and I was sad. I was probably saddest because my father and my grandmother were so sad. I probably didn’t quite grasp death yet, but I had been told that Granddaddy wasn’t sick anymore, because Jesus had healed him and now Granddaddy and Uncle Spencer were reunited.

Then, it happened. There I sat, being nice and prim and proper (a rarity for me) when I saw my grandfather’s eyelashes move. I froze in horror. I wasn’t afraid of him jumping out of the casket… I knew a terrible mistake was about to be made, because Granddaddy wasn’t dead. I thought about what I needed to do to right this horrible wrong and I went straight to my mother. Of course, she was standing and quietly speaking to someone else, but this was important. I had been told not to interrupt, but someone really needed to know what was going on.

I tugged on her skirt. She threw me one of those don’t-interrupt-me-while-I’m-talking looks that mothers perfect. I waited a minute and tugged again. She took my hand and continued talking. I put together my calmest voice and cleared my throat and said, “Excuse Me” and she turned to me and reminded me not to interrupt her. Finally, her conversation ended and she asked me what I needed.

“Granddaddy’s not dead yet.”

Complete silence. I am certain I received pitying looks from the people standing in our vicinity but my mother excused us and we walked away. She wanted to know why I thought Granddaddy was not dead.

“His eyelashes are moving. He can’t be dead yet, because he’s just asleep. We can’t bury him because he’s not dead. Come and see for yourself.”

I tugged my mother to my seat and she graciously sat down with me and explained that sometimes when we stare and something very hard and for a long length of time that our eyes play tricks on us. Then she explained about ceiling fans or air conditioning vents and how the airflow can cause movement. She convinced me that Granddaddy was indeed in heaven and I had nothing to worry about.

I’ve attended a lot of funerals since my young days. My mother being the church organist always meant that I attended more than my fair share of funerals and weddings. I’ve been to funerals of the elderly, teenagers, babies, etc. I have been to Catholic funerals, Episcopalian funerals, and loads of Baptist funerals with hordes of casseroles in the back room. I have seen open caskets and closed caskets. I have even sung at a couple of services.

This past week I had the honor of singing at the funeral of the father of a close friend. I sang with three other ladies, each having different views of funerals and the dead in general. I suppose I am somewhat immune at this point to the idea of being in a room with the shell of a person. “Shell” is the best term to use since the living soul has gone on to eternity. When my mother’s father passed away, I remember someone saying that the shell was lying before us, but the Nut had moved on. Gramps would have loved hearing that.

So, I arrived with my cohorts (Suzanne, Requelle, Natalie and Perri – but Perri wasn’t singing) at the funeral home a few minutes before the service to meet with the organist and quickly glance at the two songs we were singing. One song would be a breeze, since it was an old standard. The other song was an old standard for my mother’s generation, but I was sight-reading that one. As we are getting ready to enter, Natalie and Requelle voiced their concern about being around an open casket.

Natalie let us know that she had very limited experience with funerals and she had to really love a person to attend one. Requelle is from the east coast and a family who cremates their loved one and then waits around for anywhere between eight to 16 months to observe a memorial service. I’ve always thought that was a bit odd, and I’ve always reminded Requelle of her oddness. It’s one of those things we love about each other.

Suzanne assured us that we were not going to be singing in the room with the body, but in a separate room off the corner, and out of the view of those in attendance. We slipped into the hallway, past the administrative offices, the wall of headstone examples and the casket room to where the organ and sound equipment were held. Just a few steps away, was another back hallway with steps leading to an upper level and a door leading outside where hearses and limousines were waiting. This was the perfect place for us to practice our harmonies and perfect the songs for the service.

We pulled out the music and sang the first song. The organist came out and let us know we were singing in the wrong key and we graciously thanked her for her opinion. Funeral home employees would pass by occasionally to get to where they needed to go. We sang all three verses and I kept messing up on one section, so we marked the music and moved on. We were in the midst of singing the second number when I looked up and saw a horrified expression cross Requelle’s face. I had no idea what the problem was, but she began to edge closer to me and the stairs when Natalie’s face paled.

The next thing I see is the back of an employee and the end of a casket making its way through the doorway. We kept singing. I think that was so Requelle and Natalie wouldn’t pass out. The casket was a light blue hue with part of the lining peeking out. We kept singing. The employee on our end of the casket walked away and left it sitting nestled right up against our bodies. Requelle and Natalie continue to edge us closer to the stairs. We kept singing. We also started chuckling.

It is not that easy to sing “Victory in Jesus” when you are trying not to laugh. I have a feeling the Lord was laughing right along with us. An employee came around the top of the staircase to berate us for laughing on such a solemn occasion. We kept singing. Perri’s voice was heard on the other side of the wall asking if everything was okay. We kept singing/laughing. We got to the halfway part of the chorus when we just couldn’t hold it in any longer and the singing gave way to full laughter. The guy who was on the other end of the casket stuck his head through the door and eased Requelle and Natalie’s mind by saying, “It’s okay. There’s nobody in here.” More laughter.

The casket was removed and tissues were distributed to dab at the corners of our eyes were tears of laughter were leaking out. I wished that Lou Ann had been with us. She would have enjoyed this experience. Natalie went on and on about the fact that the lining had been exposed and my evil twin Lana showed herself by saying that there probably really was a body in the casket and that guy just said that so that Requelle and Nat wouldn’t pass out.

More than one employee in the back hall told us that we had a very nice sound and that is when the Funeral Tour 2006 idea came into play. We decided we could travel the funeral circuit and sing and that Perri could be our road manager/booking agent. That’s when I described my ideal funeral situation, filled with party gags and good music. I thought it would be neat to pre-record my voice relaying pithy statements like “Hey… I haven’t seen you in a while”, “What were you thinking wearing THAT to my funeral”, and “You’re crowding me here” and it would all be triggered by infrared rays that surrounded my casket. When you broke that line, you’d hear my voice. Cool, huh? More laughter ensued and then it was time for us to start the service.

It was a sweet service. The first song went well… even though there was a moment of concern that the organist had tired of playing and we were going to finish the song a cappella, but we all finished together, stepped out until the final song and then sang “Victory in Jesus” to close the service. Then we packed up and headed back to Nashville where I am sure that Perri has begun the process of booking our next gig! Ha!

It is an honor to know these women as friends. It is a joy to serve in a unique way for Lou Ann, who lost her father. And it is just like the Lord to lighten our load, even for such a short time.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Welcome to Nashville... now go away!

It has been brought to my attention that Nashville is ranked number 5 on the Angriest City in America list. What an achievement! Nashville usually makes those lists that talk about poor student scores and teen pregnancy. We may be moving up by being on the Angriest City List.

I attribute this success for a few different reasons, and in no real order:

1. Country Music. Considerably some of the most depressing lyrics penned in a single musical genre. Some chick wants Earl to die. Some other guy wants his sweater back, but you get to keep the cat you’ll have to clean up after for the rest of its life. A man’s dog, truck and wife have left him wallowing in his beer at a local bar with a Waffle House waitress named Sue, who is only attractive in the beer-induced fog of a smoky bar and becomes considerably less attractive in the light of day the next morning as she is coughing up a lung from her five-pack-a-day habit and is asking for a ride back to the bar to pick up her truck, which consequently, needs an oil change, and shouldn’t the man do that for her, considering what she did to him the night before? Plenty of reason for anger here.

2. Interstate traffic and/or construction. For about the last fifteen years we have been constructing our interstate system here in middle Tennessee. We’ll do a section on one side of town and stop midway through because the really important people on the Hill forgot to budget the right amount of money to hire those laborers we see taking a break on the side of the road. So, it will be back to the drawing board and we’ll wait around for another year where we’ll gladly elect the same people for the same positions that do the same things… and our interstates will still be under construction. What is that definition of insanity again? OR, perhaps it will be decided that we should work construction on ALL the major roadways AT THE SAME TIME… and we should always begin during rush hour, so as to thoroughly irritate those people whose taxes are funding the construction process anyway. Hmm… nothing to make people angry here.

3. The Tennessee Titans. I won’t stop and brag too much about the fact that I hate this football team and the fact that after their first couple of seasons here, it appears that they have tanked. I won’t mention the horrendous traffic tie-ups on game days. But, that losing streak has got to put a damper on all those tailgating fiends who get halfway through Amazing Grace before they sneak out of the back of church to dash off to the stadium and pull out their buffalo wings, their beer kegs and their binoculars to stare and lust after the cheerleaders doing their high kicks on the sidelines. They’ll skip out of church early so as not to miss the kickoff… but it is doubtful they’ll leave the game early to pass the collection plate or the communion tray for an evening worship service. Yeah, I’ll just let this one go.

4. Fan Fair. Is there anything more enjoyable than pouring tens of thousands of country music fans into a small auditorium with their favorite country music artist? Well… maybe a root canal. Or natural birth. Or a tent peg through the eye. Or being tied to a scud missile and fired into Iraq. Or climbing Mt. Everest without the benefit of an oxygen tank. Or having to endure your period without chocolate. (I think you get the picture). These enthusiasts travel from all over the world to gather in our quaint city for one week out of the year. One. Horrible. Hot. Sticky. Week. More people wear polyester and rhinestones during this June week than at any other time in history. For those of us who are jaded by this occurrence, we tend to pop some popcorn and head over to the Opryland Hotel to play “fashion police” for the people parading by. Note to self: never determine that a sequined leopard print tube top and hip-hugging daisy dukes are a good idea on a size 22 woman. OR a size 46 man.

5. The lottery. You’d think we wouldn’t have a problem funding our school systems now that Tennessee has its very own state lottery. Hundreds of thousands of people cash in their welfare check to stand in line a few hours at a time to purchase a piece of paper that has a one in about a gazillion chances of earning them $5 in return. I can say that anger would erupt for those of us who’d really just want to purchase overpriced gas for our cars, but who have to wait in that same line to pay for the gas. It is no wonder so many people drive away from the pumps without paying. Thank goodness for the pumps with the payment options that keep you from having to enter the store. It may be less social, but it is infinitely more peaceful.

6. Al Gore, Jr. Enough said.

Friday, August 25, 2006

More General Rantings... the downfall of the Media in general

Let the madness begin.

Didn't we learn enough with the OVER coverage of the OJ trial? Because, the general public had a RIGHT to watch a white Ford Bronco tool across the streets of Los Angeles for a couple of hours driven by two aging and self-inflated retired football players. Then, we had a RIGHT to sit through weeks and weeks and weeks and dear Lord how long did that trial take? Americans (and anyone else stupid enough to watch via satellite across the big ponds) popped popcorn, pulled the TV tray up to the sofa and watched all day OJ 24/7. Sheesh.

I admit that I can be a newshound sometimes. I admit that when I cannot sleep at night, the droning voice of Tucker Carlson can lull me to sleep quicker than anything else. I try to make those "watch-until-my-eyelids-fall-off" moments occur for things that are actually newsworthy. I suppose this is the rub... what I consider newsworthy often is not what other people consider newsworthy, and vice versa.

For instance, when the war began, you could not tear me away from a television set. I stayed up until the early hours of the morning watching over our troops. I felt connected in a way. I was not watching with an eagerness to see an attack, or bombs bursting in air. I prayed over those guys on the screen. I stayed with them, hoping that they could feel my presence and know my support was there in the trenches with them. Did they feel that? Most likely they had other things on their minds, but I didn't care.

I watched a LOT of coverage on 9/11. I have a cousin who lives in NYC and I wanted to know she was okay. Thank God, she was. 9/11 was a turning point of some sorts. Even though I was an adult, it stripped away some of that innocence I try to hang on to.

I don't mind keeping track of natural disasters, but I don't stay glued to the TV for that. I acknowledge and am grateful for coverage of earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc. I like to know how I can help and am thankful for the coverage that breaks with those stories.

I remember Jon Benet's death and the surrounding grief and sadness and mystery. Much like I know about Natalie Holloway. I felt so bad for those families. My heart went out to them. If I were in that situation, it would kill me. I cannot imagine that sort of pain, and I cannot imagine it hanging with you for such a long time.


Do we really, Really, REALLY need and/or want to know what John Mark Karr had for breakfast five years ago when he stopped at a Waffle House on the outskirts of Poughkeepsie? For the LOVE, people... can we consider giving just a little LESS attention to the crazies of the world? Have we not learned yet that many, many, many wackos of the world LOVE the attention like this guy is getting? Do you not see in the looks on this man's face that HE loves the attention he is getting? Come on.

I understand that it can be a slow news day from time to time... but for HOURS last night we saw coverage of Mr. Karr being arrested, Mr. Karr walking through a building, Mr. Karr on a plane, Mr. Karr in a car... etc.

Maybe we as Americans can demand the news agencies give drivel like this a rest... and move on with those things that actually affect us. Those things we actually benefit from knowing. Those things that make us better people.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

4? Candles

Remember the movie, Sixteen Candles? The John Hughes teen drama that was filmed back in the 80s with Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall? Remember that it was the Best. Movie. Ever? I love that movie. I felt sorry for Molly's character. I could not believe that any parent would be so insensitive as to forget their daughter's birthday. I don't care if your older, more beautiful sister was marrying the Bull Hunk or not! It was just sad.

My parents always remember my birthday. Always. When I was younger, my mother would make pancakes for my birthday in the shape of a bear, or spell out my name. She would have a tiny candle burning and walk into my bedroom singing "Happy Birthday". The smell of hot butter and maple syrup filling my room and the warmth of her love shining down on me.

As I got older, my parents enjoyed calling me at the butt crack of dawn to wish me Happy Birthday. More singing, but no pancakes. That was okay with me. I'd still get birthday presents.

Now I'm officially in my 40s. My younger brother called while I was in the shower to remind me of how old I am and how I must still be needing to sleep. His wife, who is apparently perfect for him, called me that afternoon and left a similar message. My older brother and his wife and daughter left me a gift at my house for when I got off from work. They win in the "best family member" category this year.

But my parents? Nothing. Not. One. Thing. No Happy Birthday singing, no "Have a great day today" moment. No phone calls. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. I was suddenly Molly Ringwald.

I had a bad feeling that meant some old lady was going to cop a feel and I was going to have to sell my panties to the King of the Geeks. I warily walked past all the old people who came into view and kept a lookout for the Geek King. He did not appear. I was hoping that once I went home and my parents gushed over me, and wailed their horrible oversight, that I'd get a date with the captain of the football team.

Unfortunately for me, that did not happen. Well... maybe it was more fortunate than I think. I figure he's in his 40s now too... with a beer gut and a pair of girl's panties hanging off the deer antlers that are mounted over the big screen TV.

Hmmm.... life's not so bad after all!