I was seven and unnerved. Strangers dusting snow from their Sunday clothes sauntered slowly to my father’s coffin. Some without words touched his hands, his face, like a waxed figure to be tested. Hands often darted to pockets safe and real, as though my father’s face vibrated with current. I was a boy with sad imaginings. The morning sun seemingly groaned as it arose. The sky full of snow and the organ played on. God’s speaker raised his voice for the redemption of all of us heathens. I snickered inside my head as the preacher’s false teeth dropped. No one spoke, no one laughed. It was the Reverend Spicer after all. Everyone knew he was God’s right hand man in this small town.
A stream of tears rolled uncontrollably from my eyes when a sallow man in a crumpled black suit quietly closed the coffin’s lid, his face expressionless, eyes blank as surely as my father’s were beneath the cheap silk dressing of his final bed. Twelve wrinkled and weak looking hands held tightly to my father’s new quarters. With an unusual ease the six men slid the casket into the back of shiny black hearse. My sister hustled me out to our forty-eight Ford. Five of us packed into the jalopy, my dad always called it his jalopy.
It was a small procession of cars following the hearse, a few folks in Kendall Town felt sorry for the Crome family, a couple of teachers, and some coworkers from the truck stop where my mom worked. Seven cars in all including the black stretched Cadillac carrying our dad, which somehow magically became filled with vases of flowers. I bit my lip. Fredrick Crome was never a flower kind of guy. He would have been happy being buried with a lug wrench in his hand, hold the flowers.
The gates to the cemetery gave a crooked smile to the meager caravan approaching. Their wrought iron pickets had been neglected for too many years, but a village as small as Kendall Town had no extra money in its coffers for such luxuries. The next sight which caught my eyes was a fancy tent with the funeral home’s name printed on its heavy fabric, “Shakers’ Funeral Home.” It was an odd name, but not odd enough for a seven year old to laugh at it. No one spoke. There was nothing to be said. This was the whole of our lives. We dared not speak our fears, the biggest of which, “What about tomorrow?” Instead, we did what people do at their father’s funeral, we mourned. My sister whimpered as Jeff my oldest brother pulled our jalopy upon the snow covered shoulder of the narrow dirt road. Our mother got to ride in one of the shiny black station wagons belonging to the funeral home. Moms are special when it comes to burying their husbands. How would I know? I’ve never been to a burying before. Although I remember burying one of our old barn cats after a car had hit it, but that don’t count I guess.
Jeff led me up to the tent. My body began to spasm either from the temperature or from the sight of the hole. Jeff held me tighter. He felt the change in me. The six men were already out of the hearse and carrying our father towards the strange looking perch sitting on top of the gravesite. One of the men slipped on a patch of ice but managed to maintain his hold on the dull brown casket. I didn’t know much about my future, but I somehow knew this moment would be a scab, never healing completely for the next eighty years.
Preacher Spicer began his performance, my mother sobbed. My sister, suddenly stoic, stared into the sky, bruised and bloody, its scornfulness seemed wrong. My father was a good man, but the sky was angry about the whole ordeal. I wanted to curse, but the good Reverend’s wrath would not be spared if such a thing would happen. I decided to stay quiet and follow the somber approach of my brothers and sister.
After the ceremony we climbed back into our old car and headed home. I stared out the back window, but saw nothing. My dad didn’t climb out of his new home to follow us. The winter lasted longer than usual, or so it seemed. There were many lonely and cold nights. I went through the second grade like a machine, no desire to learn my subtractions or to play marbles. Life had landed an uppercut that flattened my hope for better days. The wind and snow never stopped that year. It has never stopped since. I feel the bitter biting of winter on my toes. Soon I too will be carried by six old men to the ground, the cold, cold ground.