FUNERAL CLOTHES

Mom and Dad, around 1952

Mom and Dad, around 1952

When the cancer had eaten its fill,
Little was left of Dad.
He was diminished
Figuratively
Literally
And oh, he had been handsome
Just ask Mom
She recalled wistfully his dark hair
And fine looks vaguely reminiscent of Elvis
A real catch
To me, he was ruddy and practical
Middle aged paunch and square glasses
But the disease made us both liars
He was shrunken
Sallow
Hollow

I was fourteen, the years in my life
Equal to the months in his death
I was fourteen, primed for my moment
In the spotlight of adolescence
But really of little use or effect
In our current circumstance
Which was dire
My brothers were older
Practically men
I couldn’t drive to hospital visits
Or take on part time work
Fourteen was a nuisance who still needed tending
Who couldn’t be trusted
Or leaned upon
Trivial
Futile

When the end could not be postponed
There arose the matter of clothes
My brothers were excused
Because they could drive
Because they could work
Practically men
So this was my job
After all, what fourteen-year-old girl
Doesn’t like to shop
For clothes?
We spoke in a secret language:
Easter is coming, said Mom
And Dad needs a new suit
She knew the code
The clerk knew
I knew

I sat on a stool in the corner
Watching the arrayal
Knowing the casket was ready
Masculine
Oaken
A drape of ivory satin
A touch of dogwood carving
Our clerk was equal to the task
Offered up tweeds, checks, herringbones
Double breasted and single
How do I look? asked Dad
So I pictured him dressed and
Resting against that satin pillow
Forever after
In charcoal
Or navy

When the suit had been procured
Wine-colored and plaid
It was the 1970’s
Discord
Disco
Just ask anyone
We turned our attention to dresses
From the only posh shop in our rural town
A real treat
This time there was no secret code
After all, what would be the point?
We’d grown tired of pretending
And asked for something funereal
The sales girl was honored
Dignified
Earnest

You might wear this outfit again
She suggested helpfully
And oh, I scoffed
Doubtful
Incredulous
What woman would wear again a dress
That had seen her husband sent to the life beyond?
We would burn them
Mom’s sedate black and white-jacketed ensemble
With mine of light blue and green
Burn and bury the memories
Salt the earth afterward
But of course we didn’t
There would be no fire
No liturgy
No rite

When those days had passed into the past
Little was left to say
We were exhausted
Wasted
Weary
And needed to move ahead
As survivors must
The funeral clothes occupied awkward space
Between artifact and awful reminder
My brothers, who had simply called on existing garments
Lost their leisure suits to merciful obsolescence|
Mom’s widow costume reverently wrapped in white tissue
Put away, neither seen nor forgotten
My blue and green frock donated to charity
But there is plaid
In Heaven

~lisa
6/10/2013

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SWEET SUMMER KISS (an encore post in honor of the Clearfield County Fair)

Kisses sweeten life, but the memory of most fade as quickly as the taste of chocolate on one’s tongue.  Some linger in our minds, though, with a playback that’s lush with color and rich in flavor.  Among my recollected kisses, one stands out in vivid detail.

It happened when I was 17.  Our small town bids the summer farewell with a gala county fair, a tradition that’s lasted for over 100 years.  Then, as now, it was common for teens to snag a week’s employment manning various concessions.  It’s an arrangement that works for all involved— the vendors get cheap and relatively pliant laborers, while the kids get a handful of  cash to save, spend on school clothes, or blow in meaningless hedonism. 

That summer before my senior year, I toiled through fair week selling candies for a sweets merchant.  My work station was in one of the fair ground’s enclosed buildings, and foot traffic moved at a steady, though not frenetic, pace.

Steady, though not frenetic–—those words could describe my collected romantic experiences as well.  There was usually something stirring in that area, although (unlike what I perceived to be the case among other girls) it was hardly a roller coaster ride.  I was cute enough but not flashy, friendly but not yet an accomplished flirt. 

One afternoon at work, I noticed an adorable boy walk by with a couple of buddies.  Noticing adorable boys was a frequent pastime of mine, but this time the boy noticed me back.  The three made several passes in front of my candy table, and on each trip the blond one managed a stealthy glance. What luck!  It was the blond who’d caught my attention as well; he was even-featured and nicely assembled, with what appeared to be vivid blue eyes. When he laughed with the other boys, his smile was broad and just a little crooked.  I was immediately smitten.  The county fair draws patrons from all over central PA, and this sweet thing wasn’t anyone I recognized from my own high school.  For me, that heightened the appeal.

The following day he appeared again with the same two buddies, only this time they stopped to buy some candy.  When he came back later to buy more I knew it was really happening; for some reason the fates had chosen to throw me a bone, and I certainly wasn’t ungrateful enough to waste the opportunity.

The next day when he showed up to buy candy, we chatted amiably through the transaction.  Tim was his name, and he did indeed live in a neighboring school district.  Then I made a bold move:  he paid with a five dollar bill, and I only pretended to make change before placing the same five right back into his hand.  He started to question my math, but I cut him off with a blithe, “Don’t worry, I’ve got it.”  Tim smiled an uneven smile that made the edges of his blue eyes crinkle, and ran off to meet some friends.  As soon as he was out of sight, I dug into my purse to pay for the candy I’d “given” him, certain that if I didn’t make it right the fates would be displeased and take back my pretty new toy before I’d really had a chance to play.

On Tim’s return to my booth he didn’t even to pretend want candy; we just flirted shamelessly between my paying customers.  The air around us grew so hot I could imagine shrugging coyly when the boss wondered later why the chocolates at my station had become gooey.  In the history of teenagers no boy and girl had ever been cooler, though, and I celebrated my newfound coquettishness with my cleverest move ever-—when Tim started to leave I called him back long enough to press a single red licorice heart into his palm.  I was rewarded once again with that adorable,eye-crinkling smile.

I completely expected to see Tim appear the next day, but when he did there was a pretty brunette clinging possessively to his arm.  They were among a group of beautiful couples, and as they moved past my candy booth Tim looked briefly and helplessly in my direction.

“Shit,” I thought. 

Tim did come back again, on the last day of the fair, and stayed long enough to explain sheepishly that he was kind of dating the brunette.  He was sorry, but she’d be mad if she ever found out that he’d come to the county fair repeatedly just to see me.  Still, he insisted, he’d had fun getting to know me and maybe we’d see each other again sometime in the future.

And that’s when the kiss happened.  I might have been mad on a different day, or felt cheated by miserable, rotten luck.  Instead, I reached up and pulled him in by the collar, planting a big, soft kiss right on his mouth.  “No problem,” I told him. “I had fun, too.”  For one last time I saw that delightful crooked smile, and then he walked away.

Sigh.  After a brief  but exciting spin on the romantic roller coaster, it was back to the kiddie rides for me. 

I never did see Tim again.  By now he’d be all grown up like me, possibly sporting a bald crown or a middle aged spread.  Bifocals might cover his blue eyes.  But in my mind, he’ll always be blond and 18, with a tight body and an irresistible uneven grin.

Not a bad way to be remembered, actually.

HEART-SHAPED STONE

When he was young, my son loved to go on walks, using his keen little-boy eyes to scout for treasures. What parent hasn’t experienced the excitement (and apprehension) of unloading a little fellow’s pockets on laundry day? After a particularly fortuitous walk, he presented me with a stone. He didn’t really say anything; the message was the stone itself: it was shaped like a heart.

The heart-shaped stone has sat on my kitchen windowsill ever since, a reminder of feelings that are apparent even when not spoken. Love lives in this house. Over the years, the heart-shaped stone has shared its space on the windowsill with other serendipitous objects: heart-shaped jelly beans, toy hearts, flower petals. . .while peeling a butternut squash for Thanksgiving dinner, we discovered the cross-sectioned interior resembled a heart, and briefly flirted with the idea of displaying it alongside the stone. But my soup recipe was calling, and stones don’t draw fruit-flies.

I picked up the heart-shaped stone today while clearing away some other kitchen clutter. I held it in my hand and smiled. Once evident of a little boy’s love for Mommy, it continues to remind me to look for the love that’s all around; to look for love in unexpected places. The heart-shaped stone will always reside on my windowsill. And when I’m gone, I want it to be passed along so its message abides.

 ~ All you need is love.

~ And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

~ Brief is life, but love is long.

~ For God so loved the world,He gave His only begotten son.

~ And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The Heart-Shaped Stone