At age 12, I earned a rather unusual distinction: I was the most experienced funeral altar boy at St. Patrick’s parish. And with my kid brother Marty as my wingman, we became a pretty reliable one-two tag team for many funerals in the early ’70s. If there were a teen version of funeral crashers, I was Owen Wilson.
Most of the gigs were relatives — Dad had 11 siblings and he was number 9. But if you count all his uncles, aunts and cousins, there were literally hundreds. And many were old and, shockingly, each one had a funeral. Plus a visitation and rosary with lunch featuring baloney sandwiches dripping in Miracle Whip.
I knew the readings (Psalms 23:4), the songs (“How Great Thou Art”) and the incense. I knew the cemeteries. As all the locals know, St. Pat’s is nestled between the Great Bend Cemetery and the nuns’ cemetery. On Memorial Day, Dad would drag us to another one — his hometown of Seward, a dot on the map south of Great Bend with a Catholic cemetery four miles north of town. After the outdoor Mass, Dad would do the obligatory walk around. “This is your great uncle who was my dad’s brother along with Micky and Joe, and his wife was Rosemary and they …” The names were vaguely familiar to us — Pundsack, Chadd and Keller.
We would dutifully oblige him, pretend to pay heed and the tour would end when I would suggest, “Hey, dad, the Indy 500 just started.”
My parents’ funeral plot has been secured for many years now. Dad acquired it in some arrangement with the parish priest decades ago. So they are in the Catholic segment of the Great Bend Cemetery at the west end, which means they are surrounded by headstones of friends — both living and, well you know. Pre-purchased headstone: engraved, a photo of my parents taken at my wedding beautifully cut into the stone. Modest, meaningful, perfect.
But big cities change things. Cemeteries are not in center of the town. People zoom by them on the way to more important things like hitting Best Buy or Hooters happy hour. The intimacy of small town cemeteries isn’t the same. So yes, I’m worried. Because someday the person in need of a sacrament will be yours truly. And if left to three dudes and a daughter, well, I’m feeling fibrillations.
They don’t know funerals. They never were altar boys. Never did a reading. They never burned incense except in I Tappa Keg, which requires no further elaboration.
My fear is that they will resort to Facebook or Twitter for answers — hashtag #funeralideas, #needfuneralhome, #daddroppeddeadWTH! They will likely live in some faraway city and be consumed with other priorities like capturing a perfect selfie. My funeral will be organized in a rush with key decisions determined by rock paper, scissors. SportsCenter will play in the background.
The organ player will be replaced by an iPod. The soloist? A rapper. “Mr K was good to me — but now he’s RIP.” Readings quickly borrowed from Reddit, Wikipedia or some show available only on Netflix.
So if your response to all this is “do some preplanning,” then you just earned the MOTO award — master of the obvious. But buying a dual plot for the missus and me right now is taking a back seat to more earthly priorities — my Verizon bill, calling Stanley Steemer and some unruly eyebrows.
Mom had a funeral file, which was thoughtfully organized. And yes, I started on my own. Music, readings, some ideas for pallbearers, but presently that envelope is secured in our safety deposit box at Capitol Federal. And that presents its own problem: We keep losing the key.
If you find it, send it my way quickly. I’m getting the sniffles and if a fever follows, well, at my age, you never know.