Mama’s eyes were puffy and red. She pulled her hanky from her apron pocket and blew her nose.
I put my arms around her waist, resting my head against her stomach.
She patted my head. “Bobby, your uncle William has gone to be with the Lord.”
“He was just too sick. He gave up.”
Death was something almost secretive in our house, or at least it seemed that way to my seven year old mind. I could remember only one other time when someone had died. Mr. Lawrence, the butter and egg man, had stopped coming by. The adults whispered around us kids, but I caught bits of conversation. “Consumption. Such a pity. He‘s in a better place.”
Mama pulled me away from her apron and held me by the shoulders. “There will be a funeral tomorrow. Your daddy’s a pall bearer and I am sitting with your aunts in the front row. That means you and Danny will have to sit in one of the pews behind us. I’ve put Danny in charge. I know you both will act like young men for Mama, won’t you?”
My twelve year old brother would be my boss. That was the same as having no boss. I wanted to ask what a pall bearer was, but I didn’t want Mama to think too hard. She might change her mind about putting Danny in charge.
Mama fussed in the kitchen the rest of the day, and before I knew it, the morning of the funeral had arrived.
Snow flakes swirled in the air as we walked up the church steps. Papa had come earlier, leaving Mama to bring me and Danny. The coal stove was lit and the church house warm. Mama stopped at the pew where my cousins were already assembled. She bent down and whispered. “Sit here and behave. No acting like wild Indians, you hear? Danny, keep an eye on your brother.”
We watched as Mama made her way to the first pew. Papa sat with my uncles on the other side, looking handsome in his suit.
My cousin Sarah glanced at me and straightened the bow in her hair. I stuck my tongue out at her. Danny poked me in the ribs, hard. “Stop it, Bobby.”
I glared at my brother. Any other time, he would stick his tongue out, too. Maybe he was taking his boss job seriously.
Pastor McCoy started speaking. He mentioned Uncle William’s name, and the names of his wife and children.
Mama sat in the front row, her head nodding in agreement as the preacher talked about what a good man Uncle William had been.
I looked down and picked at a loose thread in my pants. A tiny hole appeared. I glanced up at Danny. He was staring straight ahead. Satisfied he wasn’t paying attention; I reached into my pocket and touched the BBs I had stashed. I worked a couple out of my pocket. They felt hard and cool when I rolled them around in my palm.
Danny’s hand came down over mine. He narrowed his eyes and pressed his lips together. He whispered, his nostrils flaring. “What are you doing with my BBs?”
“Took ’em out of your box.”
“You were in my box?”
Smiling with satisfaction, I whispered back, “Yep.”
Pastor McCoy raised his voice. He was saying something about getting to Heaven. Danny looked up, but not before he pinched me.
When I reached to pinch him back, he grabbed my hand. “Stop fiddling and sit still.”
It wasn’t fair. He wasn’t really my boss. I stuck my hand back in my pocket and grabbed more BBs.
Just when the pastor asked if anyone would like to share a story about Uncle William, I realized I couldn’t hold all the BBs. They spilled from my hand and hit the floor, some of them rolling down the center aisle.
They clattered against the pine planks as they made their way to the front of the church. Mama turned around, her hand over her mouth. I leaned out to try to catch a few, but it was pointless. Danny grabbed the back of my suspenders and yanked, jerking me back up in my seat.
Papa turned around and his eyes met mine. I knew my funeral was next. Then the strangest thing happened. He winked. Relieved, I winked back.
Pastor McCoy chuckled and started speaking again. Hallelujah.
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