The brothers came from Ireland, as you have no doubt surmised by now, from County Longford, to be exact, where they had fought together against the British in the Irish War of Independence and against each other in the Irish Civil War that immediately followed the War of Independence. The Irish Civil war was a particularly bitter civil war, as civil wars are wont to be—civility and good lemon danish being qualities lacking in almost any civil war you care to read about—with one side, the Free Staters, to which side Paul James Hanrahan belonged, claiming that the Irregulars were defying the legitimate government of the country, and the Irregulars, to which side Patrick Joseph Hanrahan belonged, claiming that the Free Staters had betrayed the Cause and sold out the Irish Republic declared in Dublin in 1916 to the British for a peace treaty that kept the Irish as British subjects in a sideways sort of manner. When the war was over the Free Staters had won. This tangent into modern Irish history need not concern the reader any longer, except to say that because of the war and their involvement in it the two Hanrahan brothers refused to speak to one another—ever. Their wives knew each other, their kids grew up together, but the two men never spoke to each other again for as long as they lived. If the brothers had something to say to each other, the brothers would tell their wives or the kids, who would then go and deliver the message to the other brother. I went to school with a couple of the brothers’ grandkids and they told me years ago that no matter what their political differences the brothers always loved each other the way brothers should, even if each regarded the other as traitorous scum.
I bring this incongruous bit of history up because the past month has been equally incongruous, with me spending more time than I really wanted to at both Hanrahan funeral homes. I am not yet at that happy age where going to a late friend’s wake and funeral constitutes an enjoyable evening out on the town, so this glimpse into my near future was both a bit unsettling and a chance to network with people I hope will show up at whichever Hanrahan’s home I eventually wind up at. Like Yogi says, if you don’t go to their funerals, they won’t come to yours.
The first funeral was for the mother of an old school friend I hadn’t seen in years. She looked well—the friend, not the mother—and she didn’t look that much different than she did in high school. I saw several other old school chums at the wake and the years have been about as unkind to them as they have been to me, but the one thing we can all agree on is that the former Concetta Paterno must either be a vampire or has a portrait up in the attic doing the aging for her. In either case, her refusal to age is scaring the rest of us no end. It’s not natural that this woman looks like her grandson could take her to the senior prom without someone immediately noticing the great discrepancy in their ages, not natural at all. I also don’t think it’s natural for someone I went to school with to have grandchildren, but people tell me that this is just one of my personal peeves and that I should get over it forthwith; people in my age cohort are not going to stop having kids and grandkids just because I find rugrats annoying.
The wake itself was very nice, if you enjoy this sort of thing. I went in and nodded to the grandson of P.J. Hanrahan & Sons— Mr. Hanrahan and all of the original sons having patronized their own establishment with the passage of time—and went in to see Mrs. Paterno, who, just as an aside here, was really one of the nicest people you’d ever care to meet. She lay there, bathed in pink light and surrounded by flowers and sorrowing relatives, and I knelt at the side of the coffin and said an Our Father and an Ave Maria for the repose of her soul the way any good Catholic boy would, and then went on to see Concetta and her family. It was a nice Catholic wake, with a priest and a prayer service and the muffled sobs of women and children and grandchildren, which is about what you’d expect at P.J. Hanrahan & Sons. Paul James Hanrahan was always the more devout of the two brothers and after his father-in-law died and left him the business Paul moved the funeral home from its old location on Mill Street to a large white house just across the street from the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, so that all of the faithful coming out Mass every Sunday would know that their religious duties to the holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church would not be complete without a wake, a Requiem Mass, and burial in consecrated ground in St. Thomas’ Cemetery, all under the direction of P. J. Hanrahan & Sons. This is not such a bad thing either, because for a lot of people here in our happy little burg wakes serve as impromptu family reunions and you can catch up with all the latest family gossip and find out how everyone has been doing since the last time someone in the family passed away.
The P.J. Hanrahan Funeral Home, by contrast, is across the street from the flashing lights of Tony’s Premier Italian Pizza, a sign that contains four untruths in as many words, which may or may not be some sort of record. There is no Tony—an Albanian gentleman named Fatmir is the owner of this establishment—and his product is premier pizza only if you have no basis of comparison between what he sells and real pizza. To be blunt, calling what comes out of his oven pizza does violence to the word; burnt cardboard with hot ketchup and some melted cheddar cheese on top would bear a closer relationship to pizza than what Fatmir peddles to an unsuspecting public every day; it always amazes me what some people can get away with, although I know that at my age I shouldn’t be amazed. Patrick Joseph Hanrahan might have approved of Fatmir; I think he would have preferred Fatmir to a Catholic church any day of the week. For Patrick Joseph Hanrahan, the Catholic Church, along with every other institution of modern Irish life, was part of a British plot to crush the real Irish Republic and those who fought to establish it and he wanted as little to do with the Church as possible. Consequently, if all the good Catholics went to P.J. Hanrahan & Sons, the P.J. Hanrahan Funeral Home buried lapsed Catholics, Jews, Protestants, free thinkers, Masons, and such other benighted heathens who availed themselves of the opportunity to drop dead here in our happy little burg.
The occasion of my visit was the wake of a city councilman who was a great patron of the egregious mold pit wherein I labor for my daily bread, and as the P.J. Hanrahan Funeral Home is on my way home, the powers that be here decided that I should be the one to represent our organization at the wake. I did not want to be a representative of any sort, but it seems I volunteered to go. I don’t remember volunteering—in fact, volunteering is not something I do a lot of; it’s not really in my nature—but the powers that be thanked me for volunteering after they told me that I was going, so I must have volunteered at some point, and the fact that the annual staff evaluations are coming up shortly had nothing to do with my decision, assuming that I made one in the first place.
The city councilman did not want flowers at his funeral—he suffered from hay fever—and so there were none. I am not sure how the councilman expected to suffer from hay fever after death, especially since his cremation left him with no nasal passages to swell, but if a man cannot have what he wants or doesn’t want at his own funeral then what is the point of having the funeral in the first place? He did have several large photo boards surrounding his earthly remains, most of them dedicated to one or another aspect of his political career, which I assume is ongoing even as we speak—I had the strange sensation throughout the night that this wake was not at all the remembrance of a life, but the councilman’s announcement that he was now a candidate for sainthood. I do not know how exactly one polls such a race, but the crowd in the funeral home seemed enthusiastic about the idea and I am sure that the councilman will remain active in Democratic Party politics both here in our happy little burg and in the hereafter. Maybe it’s just me, but I am always fascinated with the way all dead people vote for the Democrats and I’ve often wondered why that should be the case, given that the Democrats do so little for dead people. Party loyalty trumps all, I guess.
In any case, the councilman’s wake was a fairly upbeat affair as wakes go—his colleagues from the city council and from his previous post as a member of the board of education stood at the podium and told the relatively enthusiastic audience what a great guy the councilman was and what a great public servant he was and how everyone in our happy little burg would miss him and his willingness to fight for the little guy every election year. There was very little crying or carrying on; it’s hard, I think, to go all teary-eyed over a can of soot; but some people tried to stay somber right up to the point where the mayor started telling funny stories about the late city councilman, and let me just say for the record here that I think telling fat jokes about the deceased was pretty damn tacky, even if they were true.
After the politicians had their say a minister from an interdenominational church got up and said a prayer that might have been Christian, but seemed to me to be thanking the Earth for the councilman’s presence. I am not sure what role the Earth had in the councilman’s presence here or anywhere else, other than being something he stuck a ceremonial shovel in every now and again to start a building project, but as Hamlet says, there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy, so what do I know? An excellent question and one for which I do not have an equally excellent answer. Really.