Having never been asked to leave a funeral, I must admit the request took us by surprise.
The young lady who made this appeal to my brother and I meant well. One of my grandmother’s stepchildren from her 4th or 5th marriage, I forget which. Objectively speaking, I really couldn’t fault her for suggesting we avoid the funeral procession rush and break away early to make the buffet at “Senor Jim-Bob Wong’s” Ameri-Mexanese restaurant. We were being awfully jovial given this somber occasion.
Only it wasn’t somber occasion if you really knew my grandmother. Lying in state before an audience as diverse as a U.N. luncheon (provided of course that there is a country off the coast of lower Alabama called Hill-Billivia) was a woman two-thirds Mother Teresa and one-third Mae West. Multiple Sclerosis was supposed to have punched her time ticket by age 16. She survived cancer, heart trouble, the aforementioned MS and a virtual smorgasbord of other ailments. She lived to the age of 69 and along the way had one beautiful daughter (our mom) and attended the funerals of at least five husbands.
It’s true she collected husbands like many people collect stamps, with the only possible difference being that the husbands apparently didn’t stick. That however is a subject for another day. The reason my brother and I were being admonished is that our recollection of our grandmother had brought us to tears – of laughter.
Finding humor on this day was something many there found appalling. To us, it was the only way to truly honor her memory. Aside from my Creator’s gift of salvation, I believe that my grandmother bestowed upon me my greatest gift: An unusual sense of humor.
Consider the following:
The only Caucasian my grandmother ever trusted was Oral Roberts. She lived in an African-American neighborhood and told us repeatedly never to trust white people.
My grandmother was of American Indian and Irish descent, the same as us.
Her punishment when we acted up consisted of filling a squirt gun with warm soapy water and shooting us with it when we least expected. MS made it difficult for her to walk, but that squirt gun was the long arm of the law in her house.
She smoked unfiltered cigarettes from a Gloria Swanson style holder and kept them in a plastic carry case that had a hula dancer on it. When you turned the case upside-down, the grass skirt fell to the ground. When you’re a little boy, there isn’t much cooler than that.
She loved watching Southern gospel groups on Sunday morning. My brother and I hated it worse than eating spinach and chasing it with prune juice. Understanding our distaste for these Kingdom crooners, she would place a foot in the small of each of our backs and require us to lie in the floor and listen to these
Gold-jacketed troubadours dream of touring that city for hours on end.
Her goal in life, I think, was to disguise green beans so that her 5th husband (the only grandfather we ever knew) couldn’t detect them. He had this theory that he was allergic to green beans and they would cause his demise. She sought to prove him wrong by slipping them into every dish from spaghetti to rice pudding, then snickering as he unknowingly consumed the venomous vegetable.
A little strange? No. A LOT strange. And we loved every minute we spent with her. She was what writers call a character. She was what we called grandmother. An incredible concoction of maddening delightfulness. She taught us what it meant to beat the odds. To trust God when nothing around you seems trustworthy. Mostly, she taught us that laughter will erase the deepest hurt. Sure she had her flaws. So did that beat up old quilt we slept under when we stayed at her house. Both of them made us feel the same:
Warm, comfortable and safe.
She once told me she didn’t belong here. She said this wasn’t her real home. As the preacher spoke that day about how she had lived her life, I realized she was right. Because of her health, she was never able to run though a field of flowers on a summer’s day. As the preacher spoke, I closed my eyes and there she was - Running through a field of perfect yellow daisies, leaping into the waiting arms of her Savior.
And she laughed.
For now… now she was finally home.
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