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January 17, 1942 - Image 4

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1942-01-17

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Page Four

'PF"RSPECT VE7SV .

THEJFUNERAL
...By Jean Michael

BEFORE the old woman died, she
had told her husband how she
wished her funeral.
"They'll let my grandsons car-
ry me, won't they, John?" she begged.
The old man lowered his head so that
she could not see the tears on his bony
cheeks. He pressed lightly the hand
that lay on the rumpled coverlet, but
her wasted fingers were too feeble to
respond to his.
"I'll see to it, Anna," he promised.
"I'll see they do what you want. Any-
thing you want, anything that'll make
you happy . . . and I won't forget nei-
ther to water your violet plant."
The dying woman answered with a
smile in her eyes. Meanwhile, the doc-
tor hovered around the bed, impa-
tiently fingering a thermometer. He
acted as if death were his special prov-
ence, as if it were unseemly that the
old should even want to bid sentimental
farewells to a long well-spent life. He
pushed aside the hand of the old man
and felt the withered wrist of his pa-
tient. Twisting his fingers, the old
man watched mutely. He tried to ig-
nore the doctor and spoke to his wife.
"No, I'll remember to water the plant. .
Don't you fret none. I'll keep it pretty.
Why, I found two buds on it just this
morning, but the doctor wouldn't let
me show you . . . can't have no plants
in here, he says .
The old man felt avenged in the tell-
ing of this petty affront and did not
protest a new interruption.
"I think we had better let in the rest
of the relationship. The end's near,"
said the doctor as he opened the door
to summon those waiting in the next
room.
His tears now sobs, the old man (this
time however) did not seek to hide his
face from that of his wife.
'And don't you fret none about Min-
nie Gebhardt with her voice singing
'Abide With Me." I'll get Martha in-
stead."
Mutely she thanked him with her
eyes, and he patted the nerveless hand
again with his own shrunken fingers.
WHEN Uncle Will, as the small town
knew its only 'mortician,' heard the
news of the death, he told his wife hap-
pily, "It'll be a big funeral. Folks will
sort of expect something special." He
liked funerals, liked their show with
even more enthusiasm than called for
by the demands of his profession. "And
too," Uncle Will continued, "she was
married to my cousin John . . . all in
the family you could say .. .
His wife looked up from the meat
she was frying on the old wood stove,
"Maybe Will, you'd better close up
your insurance office for a couple days.
It might look sort of disrespectful of
your own relative to do business with
her laying out in the parlor. After all,
this is kind of special."
When his cousin came to discuss the
burial, Will noticed with shock that
the hands of the other were shaking,
and that he walked bent over. Why,
John looked an old man, and he wasn't
a year over Will's own age. But he did
not pity him.
"Now don't you fret none, John," he
said. "Just leave everything to me. I've
got it all planned."
The husband of the dead woman pro-
tested, "Don't put yourself out, Will.
Mother and me planned everything the
way she wanted it before she went.
We'll keep her at the house."
Uncle Will nodded in agreement. He
had not expected such an arrangement,
but it suited him He would not have
to clean the front room nor take off
the furniture covers.
"She liked the house," the visitor
went on. "Why, come these last few
years, whenever we'd go over to one
of the children's for dinner, we would-
n't be there twenty minutes, 'fore Mo-.

ther would say, 'John, let's go home.'
And nothing would satisfy her until we
were home, though there weren't never
nothing to do in the house. She just
felt uneasy away from it. Me, I was
different. I got out around more than
she did, and I'd go down to the grain
store and talk tO the fellows 'most
every day."
Uncle Will kept nodding agreement
to the words of his cousin, but his at-
tention was elsewhere, planning how
to arrange the wreaths and where peo-
ple should sit in the church.
"She wanted to be in the corner of
the room, Will. You can see the sun
rise from the front window. She al-
ways liked that."
Uncle Will nodded again. "Don't you
worry none. Leave everything to me.
That's what I'm for. It's been hard on
you, John, but we all got to go some-
time. Even you and me."
"I ain't worrying," the visitor re-
peated. "I ain't even let myself cry

"Don't you worry. Everything will be
all right, John. You've a cross, but
bear up under it."
A,bedraggled black crepe bow hung on
the door of the small frame house.
The old man tried to straighten the
knot, but the brisk autumn wind de-
fied him, pulling at the ribbon ends.
His fingers soon grew numb from the
cold, and as he saw that he was getting
no place, he unlocked the door and en-
tered. The house did not greet him; it
was lonely, lonelier to him since he
knew She was there, beyond the sound
of his voice. The old man suddenly
wished for people to talk to, though, at
the same time, he knew that conversa-
tion would have lagged or have seemed
indecently trivial. He was frightened,
because he was alone; and he was
frightened, because She was alone. He
spoke timidly to the body in the coffin,
but he knew it would not answer, could
not answer.
The old man was resentful that peo-

Kemincdep il6 74e ) t$t
"Judge not lest ye be judged" were sounds alone
When the idiot girl grinned wide as deaf as stone.
Your father was less conspicuous than dew
When the idiot mother, mouthing her fingers, grew.
A goat was tethered where stands the Catholic Church
When the Neanderthal girl walked past with a lurch.
On the site of the Federal Bank, a brooklet flows
Where the idiot girl sits down to count her toes.
From the roots of the daisies you gather, shake
her dust well.
Whose mother's mother she is, I can not tell.
She dropped the way that frozen sparrows fall.
The nine men hung their arrows on the wall.
-Naomi Gilpatrick

even those labeled City and State,
though all had spent their lives in the
same small town.
The husband of the dead woman sat
in a rocking chair, his back to the body.
From time to time, he had to rise, shake
hands distraitly with some visitor. Then
he would sit down again and rock back
and forth.
"She wanted to be in the corner," he
worried, "but Will and Bertha decided
that it would look nicer to people the
way sh is now. But she did want to
be in the corner, where the violet plant
is now."
His chair faced the east window, but
the old man could not see the night for
the glass reflected the lights of the
room and the bier behind him. In the
adjoining room relatives were reading
the papers, knitting, talking. A grand-
son left their group, He though how
like a wake the affair seemed, and he
idly thought of lighting a candle for
his grandmother's repose. He knew,
however, that the staunch German-
Lutheran souls of his strange relatives
would not appreciate the comparison,
and that his grandmother would have
considered herself insulted by such a
romish act. He did not mourn his
grandmother but wished only to show
respect for the grief of his father. The
young fellow had seen his grandmother
only rarely at family reunions, where
all affection can be no more than show.
Uncle Will noticed the grandson.
"You're Carl's son, aren't you? Well,
well. "The boy nodded and wondered
just how close a relationship was the
old man. It was safe to guess him a
blood kin. Everyone in the small town
was related, if only distantly, to every-
one else. "It's funny," thought the
grandson," that all these antique rela-
tives of mine look old, not in their faces
so much as in their frames. Their
clothes seem to bag all over and hang
as if from a clothes horse, and their
necks seem shriveledin those too big
collars."
"So you're in college ..." Uncle Will
said to the grandson. "Just think of
that, will you! . . . I went to college
once myself"
"Did you?" said the boy. "That's
nice."
"Yes," continued the old man, his
hand now on the shoulder of his vic-
tim, "I went to college, heh, the only
real school there is, The College of
Hard Knocks."
The boy blinked. He didn't know
whether to laugh, to be serious, to es-
cape, or what . . . He had never come
across such a person before. "Trust
family reunions ..." he thought.
"Yes, Hard Knocks," Uncle Will re-
peated. "I've been graduating for the
last fifty years. And do you know what
I've been studying, making a life wo
of it . . . fence corners!"
The boy was certain now that the
old man was crazy. The whole thing
was unreal, macabre. Gossiping rela-
tives, the collin and the sultry scent of
hothouse flowers, the husband of the
dead woman rocking .back and forth,
staring at the reflection of her bier in
the window. And now this queer old
man talking about fence corners. He
felt he would wake up from this night-
mare any minute. But the old man was
real and continued.
"Yes, fence corners. You see a lot of
life, learn a lot of morals in fence cor-
ners. You know what fence corners
are . . . fences come together there
and they separate there too. Just the
way people meet and leave in life. Don't
laugh now, and don't tell yourself, 'The
old man's crazy!' "The boy flushed
slightly. He had been thinking just
that. Uncle Will noticed his heightened
color.
"Uh huh. Hit the spot, didn't I? No,
(Continued on Page Ten)

w

since Mother . . . went. I just want
everything to be the way she wanted it.
It don't help none to cry."
Will put his hand on the shoulder
of the other, "Maybe, it's even a bless-
ing. She was poorly this last summer.
Heat sort of gets the old folks."
"Mother wasn't old. She was two
years younger than me, seventy-eight
last May."
"That's right," said Will. "I'm sev-
enty-nine myself. I wasn't thinking.
'Old' is somebody like Aunt Mag. Why,
she's ninety-one ,if she's a day.
The other continued, "I'm just as
glad it's this way, for her sake. She
had her mind 'til the end and didn't
suffer no pain. I couldn't of stood it
if I had to go afore Mother. She'd of
been lost without me. Why, I even had
to light the kerosene stove every day
for her. I got it thirty-two years ago,
but she never got over her distrust of
the think. Mother always liked her
wood stove best. And as for talking
about getting a gas stove . . . She
wouldn't hear of it."
Uncle Will pulled out a huge gold
watch, looked at the time. He replaced
the watch in his vest pocket, careful
to drape the heavy chain in full view
across his middle.
"Before you leave, John, just stop
worrying. You can forget about the
details. We'll fix everything so folks
like it. Me and Bertha will hndle
everything."
"You'll fix it the way Mother wants
it, Will?"

ple would come to mourn, could speak
their pieces and leave, resuming con-
versations of war, babies, and politics.
"Don't they realize," he though, "what
it means to have fifty-six years of your
life taken. And I knew her longer too.
She was as pretty seventy-two years
ago with pigtails as she is now. Not a
bit prettier." But he realized he was
dreaming and tried to escape such con-
solation.
He had better eat. He heated some
boiled potatoes on the kerosene stove
and then went down the narrow steps
to get some milk in the cellar. it was
no use. Everything he saw bore some
connotation of her, the stove, the chairs,
the kitchen table. Memory cannot
purge itself. He drank the milk in the
cellar. There was no sense in carrying
upstairs the thick glass tumbler. He
would be alone, eating either there or
in the dark cool of the basement. It
did not matter. The foodbtasted flat.
UNCLE WILL stood in the arch of the
transformed parlor. Flowers filled
the corners of the room, and their odors
were stifling. To one side was placed
the casket, heaped with wreaths. As
the mourners entered, the undertaker
would lean forward, tap them on the
shoulder and point in hushed silence to
a bronze writing stand beside him. A
sign on the stand above an open book
read, "Kindly sign the register." The
visitors would comply, clutching a pen
which might have been borrowed from
the post office, so scratchily did it write.
They carefully filled out all columns,

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