Reaching, reaching, reaching was Chester’s movement, backward, without looking, extending the left hand, searching the crevices of the church’s pew, continuing to look forward while Clinnetta moved in place. As if anticipating – as if knowing – as if paying tribute Chester remained erect, standing – reaching, reaching – securing.
Clinnetta sung at Chester Anna’s funeral – our grandmother; at Louis Wright’s – our grandfather; at Uncle Clint’s – Clinnetta’s father – my uncle; at her mother’s (Aunt Ruby); my mother’s (Georgia Ann) funeral; as she has done innumerable times – walking toward the pulpit, taking a deep breath, extending her respects to elders, extending a radiant smile- singing. Laying claim to the church was her habit, her ritual, allowing her voice to soar, while extending a hand skyward, sequestering every heart, capturing every eye, sprinkling tears, allowing us to smile and cry at the same time.
This time seemed different, much different. Absolutely, she moved toward the pulpit, took the stage, and grabbed the microphone – as usual. The pastor hugged her – as other pastor’s had done in the past. She smiled – as she is wont to do. Turning, turning, turning, in the audience’s direction, as if a steel rod had been inserted – standing exceedingly erect. Smiling, acknowledging all of us – as she had done in the past. The napkins now cloistered in Chester’s hand may have well been a dinner roll. As was his habit when a child, Chester had no intentions of sharing, securing seconds, protecting his from the rest of us – “mine, mine, mine.”
Clinnetta’s voice extended grace to her God, to other’s God, to the Gods – forcing the remainder of us to mimic Chester’s action, searching, reaching, securing, bowing our heads, wiping, watching, listening. Clinnetta proceeded to take the air out of the room, filtering it through her vocal cords before floating the notes outward, upward, forward, to the rest of us – allowing us to breathe, allowing us to live. While waiting for my ration of air, I estimated Clinnetta’s age, my age, and resolved to die before Clinnetta so that she could sing at my funeral.
Time’s march is persistent, waiting on no man. The full proverb is time and tide waits on no man, a seemingly meaningless proverb in one’s youth, obtaining meaning when time passes, converting minutes into pauses, days into brief preludes, blending months, secreting years, stealing faces, names and memories. And time didn’t wait.
Instead being in Hurst, Texas, I was now in Houston, Texas attending another funeral – no more than ten days had passed. Taking a seat, observing, admiring the church’s interior, wondering whether others noticed the person who painted the walls was a good painter, straight lines, true colors, painstaking work. The painter’s patience, patience and craft remained on display daily – at funerals, weddings, masses.
Looking upward, sideward – left, right – seeing a wheelchair bound elderly woman motion, then whisper. She was the same woman I saw when entering the church. The same woman I offered to lift over the steps, until the access ramp was located. Now, the process was reversed, carefully guiding her back to the chair, before exiting the sanctuary. It was then I noticed them – a smallish man, a largish man – situated in the front of the church, off to the left. They unencumbered their guitars, performed a mike check, strumming their instruments – slightly off, slightly, just slightly. They began in earnest, singing, playing – emitting a still off-beat sound, slightly off-beat, just slightly.
The smaller man’s voice possessed the intonation of a “Banty Rooster”, filling every space, attacking, occupying every crevice, taking the air out of the room, refusing other’s air. The more the he sang, “Slightly off” became “assuredly off”; extending a voice to thee, insulting, taking common songs of the Catholic funeral liturgy and making them his own. This last statement is not intended to be a compliment. Watching others, wondering whether they heard what I heard.
Maybe the woman in the wheelchair knew Banty? They appeared to be of the same generation. Maybe her removing herself occurred when she saw who was singing, refusing to sit through another butchered performance, coming back much later, much later. Maybe, just maybe, I should have run over and offered to help again, this time ignoring her gracious insistence and helped anyway. Instead, I stayed locked in place, anchored to the pew, as if I was prisoner in a medieval dungeon, remembering other versions of the song, trying to contain the involuntarily shake now possessing my head, hands, body. Wanting the assault on the lyrics to stop, complaining – to myself, to others, to no one in particular – complaints packaged in short burst of discontent. Why? Who is this man! Asking for the Gods to intervene, looking for the Gods to intervene, wondering whether there was a God – particularly, after hearing what I was hearing.
Ave Maria indeed! Ave Maria indeed!
The smaller man claimed the space, dominating the mike, while the larger man stood to his right, to his rear, in the recesses, occasionally stopping, looking, as if he knew his smallish-partner was off-beat. Never interfering, participating, but not participating, knowing full-well they were not the best in their blessed craft.
I have heard it both ways: funerals are for the living, funerals are for the dead. I don’t know the answer to the idiom and don’t pretend to solve the question in this muse. Maybe both are true. While Banty sung, in one eye, I became particularly insulted for the dead. In the other eye, I saw Clinnetta ending her tribute to Ira, while Chester move the bundle of napkins to the left side of his face and wipe. The third eye: I noticed the woman in the wheelchair come back only when the Priest began the mass. The third eye helped me to resolve part of Father Time’s Rubik’s cube. Time doesn’t wait. Marching at a ritualistic, persistent pace causing us to remain amazed at both the predictable, unpredictable. Seemingly speeding as we age, causing us to see backward and forward, recognizing our humanity, frailty, limitations. Some things we can control. Some things we have no control over. So be it resolved – two years, two years max, and out.
So I muse!