Monday, April 16, 2007

Funerals and Futures

As many of you know, I am in the process of looking for a house to buy in or near my old home town, a place in western Massachusetts that is a small town made up of a still uneasy mix of old-time New Englanders, families of mostly European and Asian immigrants from the recent and distant past, privileged families, small-acreage farmers, factory and mill workers --white collars, blue collars and as my long-deceased aunt would have said - "people who are Catholic and people who are not".

A couple of years ago I attended the wake and funeral of an elder cousin, who at that time was one of my few remaining relatives. I sat in the back of the small funeral home that every member of my family in that town had used for years.

I watched them file in -- the people who were distant relatives, fifth and sixth cousins - those seen only at weddings and funerals. It was as though they now did a circuit tour of major events after reaching a certain age. Plus, they all had attended the same church, and had lived in the same neighborhoods. After a while they became family to each other by proximity and shared memory if nothing else.

I sat behind a group of good and decent women - farm women who had given every inch of their lives for farm and family. These were hard-working women, women wearing slacks to fend off the winter cold, sensible winter shoes, quilted fibrefill coats and knitted wool hats with matching scarves. Each one of them had raised a family, endured hardships and given up a great deal so that their children could have a better life. They were rough-hewn, but solid, dependable. Theirs are hands that had never known manicures -- chapped, calloused, toil-worn hands, hands made rough in service to family.

I sat quietly behind them and listened as they heralded the arrival of each visitor in hushed whispers -- "Oh, you know her -- she is the one whose daughter married the Puerto Rican boy." "You know him - he is the one who got fired for messing around with the boss's wife." "Oh sure, she's the one with son who isn't 'quite right'." "His son killed himself." "Her daughter is the one who got married five times." If they had been chickens, they would have been nervously raising and lowering their heads, and giving those tiny, low, broody, almost-baritone chest clucks as they nervously picked at the soil. "bwakkkkk scandal bwaaaaaaawk tragedy" They were the biddy Greek chorus of the funeral parlor.

This association of person with controversy or sad event in a ritual recounting is typical of my old town. Despite their fundamental goodness, each of these women could be wearing a button that said "DAMN IT. I DIDN'T GET MY DREAM" on their jackets. So in some sense it was only natural that they would note first and foremost the interstitial places in the souls of others, the cracks where their dreams had also fallen through.

After the wake, the saying of the rosary, the burial, we were told to meet up at one of the town's new and pleasant restaurants to gather and remember the departed. After the meal I was to drive to my father's home -- a place that was not a welcoming place since his remarriage to a rather difficult woman late in life. Let us just say that much water had gone under that bridge, and I spent a long time understanding over and over again what it means to forgive, or to bear the burden of needing to forgive.

As I was about to back my car out of the parking place, I heard a "TAP TAP " on my window. A woman I did not know, but had seen at the wake stood there, motioning for me to let down my window. She reached in and patted my shoulder as she said "We just wanted you to know that we think what your father did to you was awful, really awful, and we are so sad." I looked at her and said "I am sorry, but do I know you?" She told me her name. It didn't ring a bell. (I found out later that she was the daughter of one of the farm women -- my generation of her ilk.) She repeated how awful it had been. I told her thanks, but life moves on. Forgiveness happens. But thank you.

I drove away with the shocking awareness that I had now been toe-tagged for any future event. I had my rural legend attached now..."Oh you know her -- she is the one whose father...." I was conspicuous to those who did not know me, standing in the glare of my family's dysfunction. I was a resident-by-anecdote now.

So, fast forward a year and a half. I am now moving back. My father has died, that dysfunction has been dealt with. I feel free to build a new anecdote "Oh you know her -- she was the one who lived her dream and then decided to build a new one. She came back here because she loves the land and has friends here."

It isn't as exciting, but it is real -- and has the potential for much more joy. I know I can never be one of the women in the funeral parlor. My life has taken wholly different turns.

Yet, part of me thanks them, as well. They watched from afar, saw that hurt had been caused and wanted to let me know that they felt sad for me. While I had not wished for observers during that period, it is a strange sort of comfort that they noticed. My guess is, great praying women that they are, that my name was even carried forward in prayer. And there is goodness in that.


Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

A beautifully written post. Thanks for joining the RevGals!

6:55 PM  
Blogger Maggie Rose said...

Mata. this particular post has captured the bitter-sweet and the complex mystery of life, struggle, and forgiveness. becoming aware that private pain is being seen as through in a fish bowl certainly is startling. but a hearty congratulations on the newest version of your life...and a replacement of the previous (and partial) understanding of who you are with who you truly are. success to your move and to your new community life.

Maggie Rose

4:04 AM  
Blogger Jayne said...

"OH, you know her... she's the one who dared to follow her dreams, and she's...egads!... happy!" :c) Smiling and thanking God for the gift of forgivness and love (and your friendship). You GO GIRL!

6:53 AM  
Anonymous Alice said...

I loved this post! Like maggie rose said, you've "captured the bitter-sweet and the complex mystery of life, struggle, and forgiveness." I'll look forward to reading more as you find your way back, and might I say you're very brave. I'm not sure I could ever go back to my beginnings . . . funny how the women there are EXACTLY like the women at the funeral. Thanks for sharing this.

11:36 AM  

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