10 September 2012

Folding the flag is putting it to bed for the night

The last time I was in this particular funeral home, the funeral home of choice for my father's side of the family, was when my grandmother died. The first time was when her husband, my grandfather, died. My grandmother was a little not-quite-there by the time her husband died, and I remember sitting with her, holding her hand, when someone came over and said "I'm so sorry your husband's gone". And she said, "no, no, he's not gone, he's right over there" and waved vaguely in the direction of either the open coffin or my uncle, who was rather the spitting image of his father.

Today it was my uncle's turn - all of my grandparents are dead, and the next generation is eroding. My mother, an ex-uncle (long divorced from my aunt, but still the father of my cousins), and now this uncle.

He was a dear man who could beat anyone at ping pong, even when he was playing with a cast iron frying pan. He could catch fish when no one else could. His wife is a tap-dancing puppeteer (well, not at the same time), and after he retired and they moved to California, he managed and emceed her dancing grandma troupe, the Tap-A-Tooties. He cooked, he played tennis, he once played lacrosse against Jim Brown.

After the service at the funeral home, we made our way to the cemetery. Because he'd served in the Army during the Korean War as an artillery forward observer, he had military honors at the gravesite: a bugler played taps, and two uniformed personnel folded the flag, mesmerizingly, in silence.

And then, while we were milling around before heading out for lunch, one of my cousins whipped out her gardening gloves and a trowel, and planted pansies by the big marker for the family plot.

It's why to be buried, I think. Someone will plant pansies, or leave pebbles on the headstone, or bring gingerbread men and pfeffernüsse at Christmas time. Someone will remember you.

We will remember Uncle Phil.

12 comments:

Jody said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your uncle's death. It is really comforting when there's a family plot, isn't it? Someplace to go to remember, and to feel still connected to people who are gone.

RuthWells said...

I'm so sorry, Maggie. The losses get harder and harder to bear.

Jocelyn said...

Thank you for articulating it so well.

"It's why to be buried, I think. Someone will plant pansies, or leave pebbles on the headstone, or bring gingerbread men and pfeffernüsse at Christmas time. Someone will remember you."

MemeGRL said...

Ditto Jocelyn.
My uncle died almost exactly a year ago. He and his wife planned to be cremated and have the ashes scattered at their favorite vacation spot. But not long before he died, he asked me to take "a tablespoonful" and bury it with his parents in the cemetery near us. After he died, his wife didn't know he'd asked that when I approached her but immediately said, That's a great idea. Take a bit of me too! She passed away last week and I am waiting the opportunity to reunite them. And when I go, I will take pizelle and flowers and decades of good memories.

mayberry said...

A cast-iron frying pan!? I'm so sorry for your loss, but your character sketch is lovely.

Janet said...

I'm sorry to hear about your Uncle. When Mom passed away, I put her favorite coffee cup on the headstone. When Dad passed, his favorite coffee cup joined hers. I also left a Bettie Boop statue, a teddy bear Christmas ornament and one other thing I'll be damned if I can remember right now. It IS nice to have a headstone...but...their ashes are still in the urns at my brother's house. Well...most of the ashes! My brother took some of Mom's to Alaska with him since she'd always wanted to go there. And I thought it would be nice to combine some of their ashes and bury them in the old family home. Don't tell the folks who live there now :-)

readersguide said...

I think so, too.

Bibliomama said...

Me too. I had a wakeful period in the middle of the night last night and tried to come to peace with the whole 'world going on without me' thing. It's a process. Condolences on your Uncle.

FreshHell said...

:( Condolences.

liz said...

What a beautiful tribute. I am sorry for your loss.

Kizz said...

Today is the 9th anniversary of the death of one of my uncles. He, too, had military honors, though he was about the least military dude you ever wanted to see. I was just remembering that folded flag, though, and how nice it was even when it didn't fit the scene at all.

So sorry for your loss.

MDTaz said...

A perfect title. A lovely tribute.
m