The Memorial Service

As you would expect, flying to New York to participate in a memorial service was generating about as much enthusiasm as prepping for a colonoscopy. So when we got to the airport, cleared security, boarded the 100% occupied aircraft, located room in the overhead bins for both our suitcases, found the guy sitting next to me weighed less than 600 lbs., and the plane arrived on time without incident, I was naturally relieved. But that euphoria only lasted until we got to the Hertz office.

The highly trained clerk (an illegal immigrant from Cambodia) that processed our reservation had such an incredible overbite that his upper teeth stuck straight out. This, plus his massacre of the English language, made it nearly impossible to understand any of his questions. It would have been easier if he spoke Bangladeshi when he tried to sell me the insurance package, the gas option, the car seat, the bike rack, the roadside service, and all the other options. After saying no to every question, not really knowing what he was asking, he wrote down the parking space number for the car. We walked the half-mile to the far end of the garage, found the car, a cute red Chevy compact, and loaded our luggage, adjusted the seats and mirrors, plugged in the GPS, and turned on the ignition . . . only to find out the battery was dead.

I told Sara to stay put while I went back to the office to get another car. This time Beaver Teeth sent me to another parking slot on the opposite end of the garage. Surprise! This space had no car parked in it. In fact, there were no cars in any of the adjoining spots. So I went to the nearest vehicle, an upscale Toyota van, jumped in that and went back to get Sara and our stuff.

As we pulled up to the exit booth, I commented that we were going to have a difficult time getting this unauthorized car out of the lot. When I handed the paperwork to the woman in the booth, who fortunately had a PhD in Stupidity, she scanned the document and asked if I had changed cars. I said yes, and she asked if I had gone back to the office to clear it with them, and I answered yes again. And she smiled, handed me back the documentation and said, “OK. Y’all have a good trip.”

The next morning we arrived at the church for the memorial mass. Everyone got there about a half hour early, so we congregated in the foyer, hugging and kissing and trying to remember each other’s names. As we started working our way into the church for the ceremony, I noticed my brother, George having an agitated conversation with the pastor, who was in his robes and prepared to start the service. I went over and introduced myself, and he mentioned that in addition to the dedication of the mass for my sister Virginia, there would be a funeral during the same ceremony. I told him that it would present no problem for our family. He further added that this parishioner had passed two days ago, and this was the only time available for his funeral. In the meantime, George explained the situation to his wife Kathy, who had handled all the arrangements for the memorial mass to honor of our departed sister.

By now the entire family was seated in the first ten rows on both sides of the aisle. Suddenly, Sister Mary Austerity ran down the aisle in a panic, and asked everyone on the left side, to please move to seats on the right side. Since they did not know what was happening, they politely moved across the aisle with puzzled looks on their faces.

At that moment, the organ began, and the pastor, from the back of the church began chanting. The deacon next to the altar motioned everyone to stand, and we all looked to the back of the church to see the pastor standing behind a shroud-covered casket and leading a large family of mourners into the church. Kathy, who was in the row behind me, started to laugh, and I turned to her and said, “Nice staging.” She responded, “It wouldn’t seem right without a casket.”

As the procession moved to the front of the church, the grieving family starting looking at us, and not recognizing anyone, began wondering who we were. Since, I was seated on the aisle, I could hear them whispering. One guy said, “ Oh, F***. That son of a bitch John had a goumada! And she brought her whole family.” And of course, my family stared back, still having no idea of what was happening.

During intervals of the ceremony, the pastor would mention the deceased, as well as my sister. He would say, “Let us pray for dearly departed John and Virginia.” This only gave more credence to the “goumada” theory.

The Readings were all done by members of John’s family. The first one was by Anthony “Cynda Blocks” Marranaccio. He squinted and formed the words on his lips, as he read from the crumpled paper in his hand, “A reading from St. Pauly Boy . . .” The next epistle was by Angelo Fracciacomo. He was five foot five, wearing a size 44-long suit jacket that covered his tool belt. When he reached into his jacket to retrieve his notes, everyone ducked under the pews. He recited his prayer, pronouncing nearly all the words correctly, and ended with, “Go with that.”

At the end of the ceremony, when the casket was rolled out to the foyer, the pallbearers replaced the shroud over the casket with an American flag, while a bag piper played Taps. With that, Kathy leaned over to me, giggled and said, “Well, she always wanted a military funeral.”

As I walked up the aisle, I turned and looked up to the ceiling above the Sacristy, and wondered, “Why can’t anything in my life ever be normal?”