By Karen Brode
The day had crept by so slowly. It was almost time to leave for Charlie’s funeral. Winnie could not remember being so nervous, and she had been plenty nervous in her life. Pete was in the bedroom rereading the scriptures he would use in the funeral service. It was a wonder that her nails were still in such good condition. Winnie was a woman who took great pride in good nails. She often held Karen’s hands in hers and surveyed the bitten off nubs of nails and sighed in resignation.
Travis and his family were in the living room. She couldn’t help it that Uncle Charlie had died right after they got here for Christmas. She knew they were disappointed that they had to attend yet another funeral here in North Texas. And this wasn’t one they would have attended if they hadn’t already been here. She kept feeling as if she should apologize to someone, but to whom?
Karen was sitting stiffly in the living room in her Sunday dress. Winnie had debated about whether Karen should go to the funeral. Karen was so nervous and had been through her own father’s funeral just a few years back. Winnie stared at Karen and wondered who she could get to stay with her if she didn’t go to the funeral. Maybe it was better if Karen went with them. Winnie didn’t know! Why did everyone look to her to have all the answers?
Travis was leaning his head back against the wall in the living room – so much like their daddy, Winnie thought as she looked at him. He had come home and it was Christmas and she had envisioned a much different time together with Travis. Now the Christmas tree with it’s twinkly lights looked garish in her front room window. She had pictured Travis and her going for a leisurely walk if the weather permitted. Or maybe he and Jane and Kathy would like to go to the new mall. And, of course, she would take him to the catfish restaurant she had found at the lake. But now, all these outings were secondary to Aunt Emma’s needs.
“It’s a little after two, are you ready?” Pete asked as he looked at his watch.
Winnie got up and got her purse. Travis announced that he and his family would ride separately in their car. Winnie’s heart fell a little because she had hoped they would all ride together, but it would have been crowded. Winnie could tell that Karen was already tired, and Winnie wished they were doing something fun for the girls to enjoy, but this wasn’t her fault. She kept reminding herself of this fact.
They pulled up at the cemetery, Aunt Emma was still sitting in the funeral car which had gone to pick her up. Her walker was sitting by the open car door. Winnie wondered how the funeral men had gotten her down the front steps of her house. Maybe they had carried her. At least, she had not brought any of the cats with her to the cemetery. Winnie had thought that she might, and really, there was a limit to what Winnie could stand. She might just run screaming down the road and let all of them find ways to go on without her.
Winnie walked over to the funeral car and stuck her head in.“Emma, are you okay?”she asked in a motherly voice.
Emma had been staring out at the cemetery. She turned to Winnie and tears ran down her face. “Oh Winnie! I don’t know if I can get through this! It’s too much!” Then Emma cried in earnest, heaving great sobs as Winnie held and soothed her.
Winnie helped Emma get out of the car. She stood close by and held Emma’s arm as she pushed her walker away and caught up with it. Winnie felt conspicuous. She felt everyone’s eyes on them. Aunt Emma had to stop and catch her breath. Winnie stopped and held onto her. Pete followed behind with his head down.
Winnie sat next to Emma on the front row of folding chairs spread out under the makeshift tent. Today, the tent wasn’t much help because it was about 35 degrees and windy. Winnie cringed when Emma sort of fell onto the chair. It wasn’t a real sturdy chair, and Aunt Emma had put on weight.
Winnie glanced around to see that Travis and his family were on the next row. Karen came to sit next to Winnie and Aunt Emma on the front row of chairs. Karen leaned over onto Winnie to try to comfort her, and to keep warm.
“Ah, let’s begin this service so we can get in out of the cold,” said Pete after he cleared his throat. Aunt Emma moaned and keened as Winnie grabbed her and held her tight. The casket sat in front of them. There was no way not to look at it. It was covered with flowers and the hole was already dug and Uncle Charlie would be lowered into the ground as soon as the last prayer was said. In fact, the grave diggers were standing over in the corner of the cemetery waiting.
Winnie’s feet were so cold. It was beginning to mist or sleet; it was hard to tell which. She wished Pete would hurry up. Winnie glanced down and saw that Emma had no hose on. Another pang of guilt. She should have helped Emma get dressed! She looked at Emma’s dress to see if it was right side out. Once, she had gone to visit Emma and her dress had been on inside out.
Winnie felt that she was single-handedly holding the world together and she was getting very tired. She wanted to be free! She wanted to go home! She wanted to be alone with her brother and his family. She wanted to soak them up and spend hours with them! She wanted away from Aunt Emma and Pete. Why had she been denied this time with her brother and his family? It made her mad. She didn’t ask a lot out of life, and yet these things happened to her all the time.
She thought ahead. She knew tomorrow night would be colored by the funeral. It would be Christmas Eve and they would open presents, but there would be a pall over it all.
Pete started reading from the Bible. He could go on forever, thought Winnie, as she watched him in disgust. He was reading about judgment day.
”Depart from me, ye who are wicked, and go to eternal damnation where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!”
Winnie listened in horror as he closed his Bible and continued.
“Now, I don’t mean to upset anyone, but I just think we should be realistic” intoned Pete as the afternoon grew darker and colder. We all know that Charlie was a good man, a kind man, an honest man, but he didn’t go to church a day in his life. All his life, he watched other people go to church and worship God and he chose to stay home or out in his fields. He took care of his cows as if they would always be his. He worked his land as if it would always be his. He made no provisions beyond this temporary place on earth. He didn’t prepare for his real future.”
Pete sighed and looked across the cemetery. Winnie was seething and she was horribly cold. Why did she have to sit here in this cold awful place?
Pete continued, “There are only two destinations in the afterlife, and I believe that we are all certain where Charlie is.”
Winnie stared at Pete in horror.
“OH SHIT!” Winnie screamed from the front row.
Then, she became very quiet. She slowly turned around to look at Travis. It seemed that he and his family had scooted their chairs several inches farther back, away from her.
She didn’t blame them. She was beyond shame. She tried to think of who else was back there as she hung her head.
At least, Aunt Emma was not cryin g anymore. The drama that had taken place had captured her attention, and taken her mind off her own sorrow.
Winnie kept her head down. It was all she could think of to do. Pete had crossed a line. Why did he have to do this now when she just wanted to have a nice holiday with her brother and his family? Why was she denied even the slightest happiness in life? She knew that Pete would be sullen and difficult the rest of the holiday. Why couldn’t he just keel over right now and die? It would make her life so much easier. She stared at Pete and willed him to die, but he didn’t.
The funeral home workers gathered their supplies and helped Emma up. Winnie would have to get up and go on with her life. She wished she could disappear, but she had to go on with her life and take care of Aunt Emma.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.