I'm still under the avalanche of web work, and I don't even begin to see a glimmer of light until after 10 pm. Bill is bashing himself against our budget trying to figure out how to pick Peter's pocket to pay Paul. We are as broke as we've ever been, with mounting college tuitions looming ever present. I don't know where the money is going to come from and neither does he... but we'll figure it out. We always do. I should have been asleep hours ago, but this week of activity needed to be written, and I couldn't sleep. Kate and Wes came over to borrow the sewing machine. Tomorrow is our Beltaine celebration, and there's a ton of work to be done, from moving the 20 ft. May Pole, to floral creations, to ritual, to feast. Beer must be bottled. Casseroles must be baked. The circle must turn on this celebration of our first year of Oak Spring. And I must get some sleep or I'll be falling on my face tomorrow.
The avalanche of work awaiting one after even the briefest of vacations is almost enough to deter any future plans for taking leave of absence. I am buried under a mountain of work, and left to spend Wednesday and Thursday digging myself out with a teaspoon. Bill returned from Dallas Thursday evening just in time to DM the regular D&D game in the dungeon. I took off for Gwinnett and the recording studio to have a listen at Greg Robert's masterful additions to my song, In a Gown Too Blue. Once in the Warren, I'm seated in the chair between two speakers.... and I can't adequately describe the sounds I hear. Greg has filled in all the empty places of the canvas of this song with musical highlights. You can hear the future merging with the past as Kivran travels through time to Middle Aged Oxford. It's a powerful and overwhelming experience that only wants for the solid beat of my drum and the whisper of brush strokes. I come away with a dump-down of 90% of the songs on the tape in rough mix, and it sounds SO GOOD! I am praying that Connie Willis (the magnificent author of the novel Doomsday Book that inspired the song) likes it. I'm going to try real hard to connect up with her at Worldcon.
Leaving is more difficult than any of us thought it would be. One by one, parts of the family say good bye and head for the airport or homes, until it's just us and Grandma and Uncle Bill. We finally have to go, too. On the way to the airport, though, Bill gives in to his intuition. A quick call to Delta, and his flight is changed to Thursday. He drops me off at the airport and returns to Grandma's and the train room that must be sorted out.
I board my plane and travel back to Atlanta. My new companion is a fellow named Harold Bowan, a cornet player with the Middleboro Citadel Salvation Army Brass Band, Yorkshire, England. We have a delightful time talking about England, tea, hockey, soccer, music, teaching, his girl friend, my extended English family, the price of petrol, and the city of Toronto. I must ask Tim and Annie Walker to keep an eye out for this young man. They'd really enjoy him and his cornet, what with their connection to brass bands and English folk music.
It's pouring rain when I land in Atlanta. I slosh my way, loaded with luggage, to my car, and slog home to unpack and dry out.
My suit is still dripping wet when I rise to put it on. I drag out the ironing board and press it in a cloud of steam, not all of which is coming from the iron. It's still damp when I have to put it on or go naked to the funeral. It's a beautiful, sunny day, and the slight breeze runs through the wet cloth and makes me shiver. I used to feel that skies should be cloudy for funerals, but I've changed my mind. Grandpa was a sunny person, so this weather fits. We gather at Grandma's house to await the arrival of two limousines that will transport our family back to Restland. Bill and his sister Linda and I climb into one and move to the far seats. Grandma takes the seat near the passenger side door; there's no easy or graceful way to get inside these cars. Uncle Bill plunks himself in the seat next to her. He is determined to be her close guardian, much to Aunt Marylou's consternation at having to crawl over him to get to a seat. Ah well.
Bill and Linda and I know our primary task when we arrive. The two of them are to be pall bearers, so once they've gotten their designating boutonnières, we hustle ourselves to an unused reception room, and practice Wayfaring Stranger. It's apparent to Bill that Linda and I just need to go over and over it several times, so he leaves us to our work. There's something about the lyrics, though, that just aren't sitting right. "I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger, a traveling though this world of woe..." Grandpa was never a stranger to anyone for more than the minute it took him to introduce himself. He often played a game with his children where he would start singing a popular melody, but change the lyrics and hand the next line over to the next poor contestant. That person must keep the melody and make up another lyric that scans and fits, tossing it back in Grandpa's mental lap. So... Linda and I took up the challenge. We changed the lyrics right there on the spot. "This was a man who knew no strangers. He traveled through a world of woe." A few more tweaks, and the song felt right.
Back in the chapel, the rest of the pall bearers were conspiring. There is a fine line one must toe, the boundary between loving playfulness and outrageous behavior. We're fairly sure that we are within the limits of good taste...but just.
I got to the organist, and made a small but playful request. There are a lot of hymns that are based on the tunes of Arthur Sullivan of the operetta duo Gilbert & Sullivan. Grandpa loved that music, the patter, the gaiety. Surely, in the stack of hymnals next to the organ, we could find some of those sweet and pleasant tunes for processional and recessional music. Both the organist and the soloist leapt to the task and soon found several Sullivan tunes, along with the Navy hymn, and an extemporized version of the Pirate Chorus from Penzance. It was lovely and oh so appropriate.
The minister, Wally Chapel, delivered a thoughtful and heartfelt sermon and eulogy. Uncle Bill, Linda, and Aunt Marylou related strong and special feelings. Then the congregation filed out past the coffin and left us to one last task. A small special wreath of flowers had been crafted with three white mums representing Louis and Lillian's three children, encircled by 15 smaller mums representing their grand children and great grandchildren. Before the coffin was closed, those flowers were given to the representatives. One of the large mums representing Bill's mom Nancy who died in February was placed, along with a small bag of her ashes, under Grandpa's hands.
The hearse driver was under strict instructions. Before the hearse pulled away from the rest home, he blasted the horn two times, as any competent train engineer knows to do. And later, when the pall bearers began their solemn procession from the hearse to the crypt, they all understood the motions. One arm on the casket, the other arm moving in slow circular motions. CHUH, chuh, chuh, chuh, CHUH, chuh, chuh, chuh, pshhhhhhhuuuuuuuuew.... as Grandpa's final box car came to a stop.
Having turned in so late last night, we naturally slept through our bodies' alarm clocks and didn't rise until after 10:00 am. Packing a change of clothes and our instruments, we headed out for Walling Lane, the residence of Louis and Lillian Lyon for over forty years. Grandma was there, a little bird of a woman, whose tiny body holds one of the most indomitable spirits to ever walk this earth. She is a strong, bright, and courageous woman with a sweet temperament and a will of tested steel. She's parted from her dearest love of nearly seventy years, and I can't even begin to imagine the weight of loneliness that she feels with Louis Sydney's passing.
We silly children always looked at Grandpa's tall, forthright, towering presence and, compared to Grandma's fragile beauty, felt surely she would pass before he did. He had always been the caretaker, the provider, the lion. Ever study lions? Do. You'll begin to understand the lioness Lillian's power.
We dress in our Sunday best and head out for the funeral home. I've been to too many of these places. This one, Restland, turns a constant clientele. They are very good at what they do, and the place is laid out for privacy and economy of space. The room that houses Grandpa's remains isn't large, but it's large enough. A steady steam of visitors came to pay their last respects, take their last mental photograph of a dear friend, hug Grandma, and share a memory or two. The small room is warm but filled with strong emotion. The hall is chilly with Texan strength air-conditioning.
At 6:00 pm we make sure that the mementos of Grandpa will be safe (a pair of dark leather baby shoes, a photo in a curved glass frame of an exuberant 2-year old, a book of keepsakes from their 50th wedding anniversary, a little plastic pink pill cup, a model railroad engine and coal car of the SL line, a well-worn cashmere tweed hat, a picture of Louis and Lillian in their early twenties.) Then we return to the house for a lovely meal and an evening of memories.
The preacher of their Methodist congregation stops by to arrange the order of service. I think he's a bit taken aback by the enthusiasm of this family. Here's a man who is probably used to tap dancing as fast as he can to get through most funeral services, and we are bombarding him from all sides with the history of a well-lived life, with a multitude of memories, with a line-up of participants who WILL be heard. You can tell from the stunned look on his face exactly when he realizes that this service is not your average walk through the garden. He knows this family, though, and normalcy was never to be expected. Louis and Lillian are strong-minded, creative, witty people who birthed a family of equally strong-minded, creative and witty children. Genetics runs true.
It's well after midnight before we head back to our hotel. The music hasn't been practiced, and that's okay. We'll work it out in the morning. Something positive and inclusive. I've only brought one black suit and one pair of black hose. I wash them out in the hotel room sink and hang them to drip dry over the tub.