One of the hallmarks of my family is laughter. No matter what the situation, we can (and do) always laugh. This is expected during vacations- all of us at Disneyworld, for instance- or family dinners (like the time we were all seated around my grandmother’s table, eating lobster. My cousin, M., was somewhat lobster-inexperienced and she managed to snap a claw and send it shooting 35 feet across the living room to the den doors). It’s not as expected at, say, a funeral. But laugh at funerals we do.
A perfect example happened a few weeks ago. My great-aunt passed away. She was the last of my grandparents’ generation. My Auntie E. had been married to my grandfather’s brother. She had three sons and those three sons used to play with my mother and her brothers. Over time, they drifted apart and the three sons all moved away. My mom and I still saw my Auntie E., although my mother was much better at visiting her than I was. Auntie E. was at my wedding and managed to really boogie- we were all impressed with how lively she was.
After my wedding, she took a turn for the worse and in the last years of her life suffered a great deal. My mother continued to visit and when Auntie E. was lucid, she would laugh at stories about me and baby G. A few weeks ago, she passed away. Her boys managed to come back into town in time to say goodbye. The funeral was a few days later. My mother and I attended, as did one of my uncles, who had flown in from the midwest. At the funeral, I learned about my Auntie E. She was an extremely liberal, opinionated woman with extremely high expectations- for herself and for those around her. She went back to college when she was in her early 60’s and finished her degree. Auntie E. was a WAVE and spent some time in Georgia. I was also reminded of things I had known but had forgotten. The koi pond in her backyard, her love of gardening and her love of cooking.
After the service, my mother, uncle and I decided to go find my grandparents’ graves so that we could “visit.” It’s an awfully big cemetery. Pretty, but big, with sloping hills and winding drives. We each had a car with us because we had come from three different locations. We drove up to the admin building and got a map. My uncle led us out and down one of the drives. And around a corner. And back up a drive. Then he stopped, got out, walked over to my mother’s car and handed her the map saying, “I have no idea where we are.”My mother drove off, confidently, and we followed. She took us down a sloping hill, up another gentle rise and around a corner. She stopped, got out of the car and brought the map to me. “I can’t tell, ” she said, “This place is too big!” My uncle got out to consult. We started to laugh- three doctorates and not one of us could read this overly complex map of a cemetery. We all got back into the cars and tried again. We drove for several minutes, often in circles. Each time one of us would stop, the other two would throw their hands up in the air, in the classic “Who knows?!” gesture. At one point, my mother, my uncle and I all drove off in different directions, as though we were all just picking a direction and hoping for the best. Finally, my uncle and I stopped and waited for my mother to find us again. Her little green Miyata came zipping down a hill and we agreed to leave the cemetery and come back in since we felt we could find my grandparents based on the entrance. At this point, we were all a little giddy at the silliness of the whole endeavor.
This was more successful. We found the correct section and started to look around at the markers. They were on a nice, grassy hill. We walked all around that hill. Couldn’t find them. “Why would this be any different?” I pointed out, laughing. Of course, in the end we did find the markers for my grandparents. They were basically where we had been standing most of the time. I’m sure there some sort of metaphor here but rather than belabor the point, I’ll simply say that, once again, my family was having far more fun than made sense for the occasion.
My Auntie E. was the first person to serve me ratatouille. I don’t have a good recipe for ratatouille- mine changes every time. So I will link you to this one. Give it a try. Report back.