Toeing the outline of an overblown flower on the faded oriental rug, I reluctantly looked up when a Looming Presence cast its shadow across my dual-duty Tuesday-in-the-office and evening-at-a-funeral pumps.
Good manners had prompted my hour and a half drive around the beltway during rush hour, but I had a plan: give my condolences to The Grieving Wife and Daughter, then flee back around the beltway to my studio apartment and pleasingly urban, young professional life.
“You, know. I know a lot of racing guys. On Sunday, one of my racing buddies hung himself.”
Damn my curiosity, but what an absolutely delightful conversational overture.
Stunned but ever-polite, my father stepped into the breach, “This must have been a tough week for you.”
Sad but true, I forgot myself (and the carpet) entirely and stared, mouth agape. This was so much better than whatever primetime show I was missing.
Episode Recap: The unfortunate friend of our Looming Presence ran ten miles a day, was into his 70’s, had quit racing a few years ago, and then just… lost his will to live. The Looming Presence with the cane, the ear hair, and the none-too-white tennis shoes “should have seen it coming” when his friend invited him over and gave him all his photo albums with a mournful, “I won’t be needing these anymore…”
The line moved forward and I patted familiar hands in turn, uncomfortable with their grief but unable to look away. A hug, a sigh and we were past the coffin but stranded opposite the door, a veritable flock of acquaintances filling the intervening yards of parlour.
“So, you’re not interested in taking home a Smith Boy, huh?” Clad in an ill-fitting suit and standing scant feet from his son-in-law lying amidst the silken lining of a gleaming, mahogany coffin, Church Elder was the picture of faux-innocent, small-town inquiry.
Entertaining images of small rusted tractors and other farm equipment that could serve no purpose in my securely urban existence, I smiled and demurred.
Making polite but peripheral conversation with Church Elder (or any someone routinely treated with respect and an easy familiarity of the sort that develops between grandfatherly figures and young girls who enjoy the run of inbred congregations) often involves such uninformed committals, I’ve found – increasingly so the older I get, the further I move, and the less my parents attend church.
Being neither interested in nor equipped to start talking shop, I hoped a vague negative would allow us to move on to some other fringe conversation of little interest but supposed mutual understanding.
“Oh, that’s too bad. I thought you two would make a nice couple.”
Feigning calm, I turned more to more fully face the Church Elder, interest captured if understanding still decidedly lacking.
“Who?” I inquired casually while rather incredulously dredging mental yearbooks for any Smith boys of my general age and acquaintance. I came up desperately lacking faces.
“Dan…Smithy. The best man,” Church Elder clarified himself three times, each a response to the increasingly stupefied expression on my face.
As visions of the indeterminately blonde – but maybe ginger? – best man from the local weekend wedding, with his flushed cheeks and weathered skin from too many years spent stalking deer danced through my mind, I consciously schooled my face into an expression of amused surprise, “But, Church Elder… He’s too old for me!”
Well-intentioned but misguided matchmaking successfully averted, I congratulated myself on a fairly diplomatic answer. Smith Boy must be in his early forties, if the groom was any indication, and firmly entrenched in his rural, gun-toting ways. My future-as-imagined-by-Church Elder flashed before me:
I heard my intended saying, “You don’t eat no meat? It’s ok, I’ll make buffalo. Roy just slaughtered.”
How wrong could I be?
“You know, The Deceased was twelve years older than His Grieving Wife.”
How to respond. How…to respond.
“But I’m only 22, Church Elder! I’m not ready to settle down yet.”
“Men don’t settle down until they’re older…”
“I think you missed the…”
Waving my protests aside, Church Elder regaled me with stories of how “that Smith boy’s” parents had gotten married when Clarence was 34 and The Boss went into the garage and said, “You know, Clarence, it’s time for you to settle down.” Ever ready to take a hint from The Boss, Clarence proceeded to look around him and decided he’d always thought Elsie was a nice-enough girl…
End scene? Please, God, end scene.
Safely in my car headed back around the beltway, I dialed my sister, “Can you hear me; you’re on speaker? You will not believe…”