“My Mother Always Said . . . .”
We followed the hearse along the main street of the small country town. I sat in the back, finally able to cry. Old men stopped outside the grocery store, faced the funeral procession, hats held to their chest. Men I didn’t know, men Dad did not know. A tradition of yesteryear, a gesture of respect to a stranger no longer living, on his final earth-bound trip. To the graveyard.
I had asked the difficult questions a couple of years ago. Dad believed that religion was a lot of hogwash, so I wasn’t surprised when he said he wanted the Salvos to bury him. “No church. Put me in the cemetery on the hill. No fuss,” Dad answered, always a man of very few words.
Dad arrived earlier than we had expected. It was kind of nice having him watch over us as my sister and I decorated the hall with sprigs of cumquat from Mum’s garden. Comforting, yet sad. Sort of unreal. How could my father be dead? Was he really in that shiny coffin, wearing the pale blue shirt that Mum had made for him so many years ago? How had I reached this stage in my life? Where had the years gone? Poor Dad, his life had been long, but empty. Devoid of depth, 87 years and he missed the point of life. But what would I know? I was over 50 when I broke free from a similar warped sense of denial.
An oak casket. “As plain as possible, please” my sister and I said in unison. Native flowers, no hymns, nothing religious. 40 chairs would be ample. We agreed on every detail organising Dad’s funeral. We worked well together, re-establishing a closeness that had somehow slipped away over the years. A wonderful re-connection; an opportunity provided by Dad. I chatted to Dad as I hid vases of dusty silk flowers in cupboards, replacing them with potted native plants that would later be part of my garden. A different look, lovely, but not fancy. Masculine, but with a softness that was appropriate. The quiet time with Dad was healing.
Dad’s 11 grandchildren attended his funeral. It was the first time they had all been together, and I hoped Dad’s spirit might be smiling on the family gathering. Pity though, that my father rarely appreciated the company of his grandchildren. He was anti-social, showing little interest in those around him, never forming friendships, avoiding relationships. Most of the grandchildren were there because they wanted to catch up with each other, and it was a happy occasion for them before and after the formalities. I’m sure Dad would have approved of all the proceedings.
Mum was more than a decade younger than her husband, took good care of herself, and had made marvellous plans for her widowed old age. Her dreams were simple: spend quality time with her family, learn new things, make friends, take a bus trip or a long walk on the beach. “Maybe I could learn to use a computer,” Mum said with excitement. “Do you think I could?” Her eyes would light up when she dreamed her dreams out loud. Dad was not a dreamer, and Mum wasn’t strong enough to fight for her dreams. “Yes, when Dad’s gone, I’ll get a computer and join a class,” said Mum in a wistful tone. “Mum, you don’t have to wait till Dad’s dead to learn to use a computer, it’s not a crime,” I answered, validating her dreams. But we both knew she did not have the courage to disobey her husband.
“I’ll hop on a bus and visit everyone,” Mum told me in privacy and confidence. “When Dad’s not here to complain, I can stay as long as I like,” she continued with mounting enthusiasm. Mum was sure her youthfulness would outlive her husband’s years of self-neglect. “I’ll get to know my great-grandkids, take long leisurely shopping trips, sit in the garden till well past tea time. I’ll even buy take-away,” she said, sounding just like a child talking about Christmas. “Dad never lets me buy take-away. I’m tired of cooking every night, with no appreciation.” Mum’s voice trailed, and she fell quiet. We retreated indoors to prepare the evening meal.
“An adventurous bus trip. When Dad’s gone I’ll go somewhere really interesting, like the desert,” Mum confided in me. “I’ll still be fit enough to go camping. You know those camping bus trips? That’s what I’ll do. I’ll camp in the desert, safe with other people, make friends, see the wildlife, sleep under the stars,” Mum dreamed out loud again. I tried to convince her to ignore Dad’s selfish rants, and to go off and take a bus trip, but Mum’s fear of my father’s angry tirades ran too deep.
With her two daughters holding her hands, Mum coped well at the funeral. Six tall young men lifted their grandfather’s coffin. Strangers. Mum followed, frightened eyes, slumped shoulders. Glancing sideways from her wheelchair, Mum’s blank face saddened everyone infinitely more than the sight of the slow-moving coffin. She ate a sandwich amongst loving strangers, sustenance for the arduous trip back to the institution that was home; her only bus trip as a single woman.
By Gaye Drady. The CWA (Country Women's Association) encourages members to further their creative and cultural skills by entering the CWA competitions each year. Their short story competition stipulates the same title for all, and a limit of 1000 words, and only one entry per member each year. This was the third time I entered the short story competition; last year my story came 2nd, and this year my story was awarded equal 1st place with another competitor. Of all the creative pursuits I am involved with, writing is my first love and the one I want to pursue. This feels like a milestone for me.