I hadn’t stepped foot inside that funeral home for years, and I mean years. My only memory of that place is a flash of reds and whites, of lots of sitting down and seeing my grandparents conversing from across the way. Occasionally I’d take notice as we passed by the massive building on our way through Ithaca, and I’d send my sympathy out to anyone coming down its front steps. After all – I’d be on my way to see my grandparents and favorite aunt, and there were the parlor people, with death on their hearts. Even though I’ve known we can’t live forever, I never thought Grandpa would be amongst us – wrinkled Mennonites and their wrinkled, black hat things – my parents, my brother, the evening – taking the Deceased And In That Coffin position.
Ma told me once, that after Grandpa had left the church, he’d gone to family reunions and was not allowed to sit at their tables. He went, anyway, and sat alone to be in the same vicinity as his mom, who refused to acknowledge him. Burns my soul.
We used to dig up shovels full of soil and pick out the white grubs for his bass, Charlie. He taught me how to hang onto the end of the worm for a moment until it loosened up, in order to pull it from the ground without tearing it in half. Concerned for his friends, he’d purchased that land and started a farmer’s market, years ago. The future of the farmer, it turned out, could indeed be rescued and filled with priceless moments like these.
“Oh, Grandpa,” was all I managed to reach at whenever I mustered the nerve to see his body lying there. Not this man. It should have been any of these other bastards walking around here with their facial hair and holier-than-thou-aire. “We’ll see you next time!” they’d say as they left, and I’d be screaming inside, bitter from my public tears, “See you because you’re still alive and I could CARE LESS!” Elderly folk who never bothered to keep in touch mused about how the last time they saw Autumn, she was “yae-high” (they say that EVERY TIME I SEE THEM) and I glared from under my newly-cut bangs, “Fuck off, why don’t you?”
For the funeral, Willard Litwiller’s cousin gave some bullshit speech about God, and I didn’t climb into a suit to listen to some stranger read from a book I already had at home. For someone else’s comfort, he spoke. Grandpa would have thought it good for us to be together, so I represented myself. Through the majority of time, they disgusted me with such lousy attempt at a tribute. Any sane person there, had they been able to hear my wrath, would have asked why I was having such sharp and pointed thoughts…
Because you all never even knew. You weren’t there when he built the pond out back and hosted hot dog roasts under the apple trees. You never slept those warm, long summer nights in the cabin he built. When you asked him to make a few more of those toys he made for us, he well informed you that their creation was a one time deal and were NOT for sale. You didn’t make apple cider. Your faces weren’t all over the walls, and on every shelf, around every corner. You don’t know the beauty of shutting the hell up and being reserved. WE DO. WE HAVE. THAT WAS US. And now, standing in here again, my memory comes back to me and the one vision worth saving does not even have the luxury of being with me, today. He’s gone, you’re all still alive and may this be one of the last times I’m forced to be displayed before you, in misery. This is embarrassing, humiliating. I can’t wait until you all leave.
Grandma has held onto the memory of that day when Grandpa got done working and picked me a bouquet. His friend stopped by, and so he lost sight of me for a bit. Fearing I had wandered to the pond, he took off running. She remembers seeing me, watching him take off from behind the willow tree, the flowers in my hand. I’d been too shy to so much as answer back, where I was.
Later that night the power went out and I took a sip of Vernors by flash-light. Grandma says I told her it burned my nose. Which, it does; Vernors makes me sneeze.
I wanted to say, “I remember that” but I didn’t speak, too well. It’s hard, for some reason, to admit that I’m still here, and that I remember everything. That she’s me – that girl with the red hair in the older photos. I remember holding the cup of Vernors in front of my mouth, I remember so well. Your lifetime was mine too, you know.
When they had his casket out there with the graves, it was like a bad dream. Suddenly I was in this tight, yellow shirt that read “spoiled” in metallic sticker across the front, which I must have had when I was six, and the hole far below him made me feel short again. For just a second, my hair was in pigtails and I was going through something no little girl should ever have to see…but she did. Hadn’t we just gotten off our bike? Her eyes widened, my eyes widened, and we stood with our hands down and slightly out, fingers spread wide in shock and disbelief. Had we not just been making ice cream in the garage? “And now you’re gonna put my grandpa’s body down in this ground?!?!” she screamed out, as it brought her flood to my eyes and I turned back to black attire, 22.
We’re still absolutely appalled.
We talked less and less, the last few years. Speech wasn’t easy or even quite necessary, so long as I was present. He was a quiet man, a birdwatcher, retired farmer, and I was a quiet granddaughter, a watcher, a retired princess, and we enjoyed each other without having to make it obvious. That’s style, to me. His final weeks, though, I couldn’t bear to be there. I saw him once – last week, and he opened his eyes to see me crying. I tried to hold a firm face despite the water streaming down, and my hands were on my hips to help me seem mightier. I felt him looking at me, but I looked to the side. That moment was so painful. I was in so much pain. I didn’t know what to say. We were both so completely…in trouble, and it hurt so much. To know.
“Because you all never even knew…”
And now, here it is. And we were right, Grandpa…