Saturday, August 23, 2008

The "Fun" in Funeral

Best and Worst...of the Weekend of Grandpa's Funeral:

BEST: Driving from St. Louis to Minneapolis last Friday was lovely. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the temperatures were mild, and except for one brief stretch I was able to tune my radio to a classical music station the whole way. Iowa Public Radio really does a good job.

WORST: Any trip in the back seat of my brother's car. He drives angry. And commenting on how scary it is only seems to make him more angry. I don't envy my mother, who had to experience it all from a front passenger seat that doesn't have a working seat belt. When I was able to form words around the gorge in my throat, I quoted Scripture at my brother, such as: "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."

BEST: In spite of driving through several places that were disaster areas not long ago, I didn't have much trouble getting around. During a stop somewhere between Iowa City and Waterloo, I spotted headlines counting the shocking cost of this spring's floods in that part of Iowa - but the roads were all in good order. And though part of I-35W in downtown Minneapolis is still closed due to the bridge collapse over a year ago, my brother's directions got me around that bottleneck with no difficulty.

WORST: A bit further south, where I-35W and Minnesota Highway 62 come together by Richfield, the roads are torn up for reasons unrelated to the downtown bridge. This posed a challenge for me right at the point where I needed to get on and off the highway. It took me several trips to work out the best way to do it without traveling miles out of my way. It didn't help that Richfield itself is torn up. The first time I drove through it, I seemed to find road construction everywhere I turned. It was freaky!

BEST: In spite of all the careful planning by my family, my most comforting worship experience of the weekend was Sunday morning Divine Service at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Richfield MN. Poor little Richfield is slowly being squeezed off the map. The church, which used to be well inside the city limits and surrounded by a residential neighborhood, now stands at the edge of a commercial development that, in turn, stands at the edge of town. In spite of all the change, the folks at Mount Calvary still sing the same hymns and liturgy and receive the same Law-Gospel preaching (from the same pastor, even) as when I was confirmed there in 1987. That is where I heard about God's mercy and the forgiveness of sins, a need one feels most acutely when death is on one's mind.

WORST: The burial service at the cemetery was the low point of the weekend, but mainly for a reason I didn't learn about until later. My uncle, who had already paid thousands of dollars in advance to cover the funeral and burial, had just opened his car door at the cemetery when a lady from the cemetery staff swooped down and demanded payment of $15 and change, which we owed because she had forgotten to add sales tax to the original invoice. She refused to accept cash (my uncle offered a $20 bill and said "keep the change") and was in the middle of a homily on properly documented receipts when my uncle held up his hands, palms outward, and very firmly said: "Not now." How tacky is that? Discuss.

BEST: On Saturday night, I met my only first-cousins on my mother's side for the first time. They are the four-year-old twin sons of her youngest brother, whom I hadn't seen for a dozen years. The boys are adorable. S is a lot like I was at that age: shy, brainy, and impossible to shut up once you get him talking. P is like my brother Ryan (the angry driver): a blur of constant movement on the edge of your visual field. I thought my cousins on Dad's side were spread out, but there is a nearly 32-year age difference between the oldest (me) and youngest grandkids on my Mom's side. To be sure, they are "biologically speaking" my second cousins, since their father is actually my Mom's cousin, but he was raised by her parents from the age of 5. It was interesting to be confused with my uncle by several folks from the old neighborhood, who remembered him at that age.

WORST: On Tuesday evening, Mom and I dropped in briefly at my half-brother Jake's house. He and his wife Celia are expecting a baby girl. Besides being very pregnant, Celia keeps herself very busy studying in college and working to support her family. We found Jake at home alone (I still haven't met Celia), shirtless on the couch playing Guitar Hero with considerable skill, and more embarrassed by the state his apartment was in than by his unemployment. I asked him if he played guitar for real but he said, "No, I'm just a video-game version of my Dad." Whoa! That's who he reminded me of! As Mom and I walked out to the car, I quipped: "There's the power of a male role model for you."

BEST: Spotted on the exit where I got off I-35W when I first arrived in Richfield: "HORN BROKEN - WATCH FOR FINGER."

WORST: Spotted in St. Louis as I returned home: a car whose rear end was completely plastered with bumper stickers. Who does that to a car? Where is the pride of ownership?

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