I bring this up because I have received an invitation to a wake and funeral of a person I did not know and, as far as I can tell, I never met in my, or her, life. The dead woman’s nephew, a somewhat addled young man who is a connoisseur of the gorier sort of horror film and a long-time supporter of the egregious mycological slough wherein I labor for my daily bread, called and invited me to the wake this coming Saturday. To be honest, I had never heard of anyone actually trying to drum up business for a wake before, but there is a first time for everything under heaven, to paraphrase the Preacher, and I suppose he is trying to give the aunt a good sendoff, which is very nice of him, I think. It speaks well for someone that they think that much of their relatives to make sure they get a nice wake and funeral; I strongly suspect most of my relatives would just as soon stuff my carcass into some heavy duty trash bags and bury me in the back yard next to the dog before dividing everything in the house up between themselves. I also strongly suspect some of them wouldn’t mind doing that right now while I am still among the quick, if only they could avoid the twenty-five years to life sentence up in Attica that came along with dumping me into a hole next to the dog. I liked that dog, too.
The trouble here is that I don’t like going to wakes and funerals, which is odd because most Irish-Americans love this sort of thing, since it’s a chance to pay your condolences to the widow and to gloat over outliving the poor dumb bastard stuffed in the box, and maybe get some free drinks after the funeral. I’m all in favor of free drinks; if you can get them then more power to you, that’s my opinion; but free drinks or not, I don’t see why I should go to the funeral of someone I don’t even know, with or without the invitation, and whose family will shake my hand as I offer my condolences and say, who are you? I mean, who am I really offending here, anyway? These people won’t come to my wake, and even if they did, how would I know? It’s not like I can check the guest book afterwards, can I? I don’t even like going to the wakes and funerals I have to go to, which have been mercifully few and far between these past few years. I didn’t even want to go to my father’s funeral and I would have skipped going if there was any honorable way to get out of going, which there wasn’t, I’m afraid. So I went, if only to please my mother and to make sure that the various aunts, uncles, cousins, and other assorted mountebanks assembled for the festivities didn’t make off with my tie.
My father disliked wearing ties and for the last few years of his life he owned only one, a long red thing that looks like the bow off of a wrapped Christmas present. He hadn’t worn the thing in years, which is just as well since he didn’t own a suit that went with it. My mother wanted him to wear a tie that matched his suit, demanded such a tie, in fact, as if the fashion police were going to swoop down on the funeral parlor and arrest the lot of us for committing such an egregious fashion no no on a poor defenseless dead man. I pointed out to my mother that no one cared if we buried Pop with in clashing colors, but she would have none of this and demanded that I provide the tie immediately. So she marched into my room and pulled the first matching tie she saw out of my closet, a nice blue Italian silk tie that cost me fifty dollars down in the city. I offered her another one that looked just as good, matched just as well, and cost me ten dollars on sale at Burlington Coat Factory, but she said no, this one is fine. Realizing that I was going to get nowhere with her while she was in this frame of mind, I took aside the funeral director and told him that I wanted the tie back before the funeral. I love my father, make no mistake about it, but I didn’t spend fifty dollars on a blue silk tie just so this undertaker could drop it and my old man into a hole and cover them with dirt.
I went to the wake and to the funeral Mass the next day; I had to—I could see the assembled relations plotting to make off with my tie. It became very clear very quickly that if I was going to get my tie back and my father was to get the funeral he deserved then I would have to stay near the coffin to make sure none of these miscreants got near enough to my father to snatch the tie from around his neck. So, I was the perfect son, greeting the people who came to pay their condolences to my father, never leaving my mother’s side or letting the coffin and the tie out of my sight for one second during the whole ordeal.
There were a couple of close calls; I spotted one cousin trying to work the tie over my father’s head while our parish priest said the Our Father; I had to hit him surreptitiously with a vase full of lilies, and he apologized for his few weeks later after the stitches came out. I also spotted an uncle I have no use for fingering the tie and looking nervously around to see if anyone was watching him. He saw that I had my eye on him, and he came over to ask me how I was holding up and what a terrible shame my father’s passing was, but he wasn’t fooling me, the two bit goniff; he had larceny on his mind and he’d have snatched that tie if I wasn’t there watching him like a hawk.
Irony, however, was going to have its way with me, however. In the end, I wasn’t able to get my tie back; my mother wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted that my father rest in piece with my fifty dollar tie around his neck; the funeral director apparently told her about my plans for neckwear retrieval on the evening before the funeral and she was, as they say, utterly aghast at my proposal. I argued that I was not tossing Pop into a hole or anything like that, which would have been wrong, if much cheaper; I just wanted my tie back. There was a question of principle involved here, I thought; I had given the funeral director the tie on the condition that I would get it back shortly, not on the Day of Judgment, where it will do me no good. My mother insisted, insisted and wept and used the vast reservoirs of guilt all Roman Catholic children have against me until I surrendered the tie in perpetuity.
That was a deeply emotional funeral for me, knowing that I would never see my tie or my father again, but time heals all wounds, as they say, and I have some new ties that put the one around my father’s neck to shame. Still, I suppose it’s the principle of the thing involved; it was my tie and I lent it for a specific time and a specific purpose on conditions that later turned out to be fraudulent. I love my mother dearly, but if she ever pulls something like this on me ever again I’m going to call the immigration people and have her shipped back where she came from.