Wednesday, November 28, 2007

One Car Funeral

Ma’s youngest brother and last of her siblings passed away. I knew as soon as the arrangements were made it would be up to me to see that Ma got to the funeral. The funeral would be in East Boston, and that posed a problem for me.

See, I’m petrified to drive in the city. Put me on a highway, let me go fast and straight and I’m happy as a clam. Get me in the city where I don’t know my way around, where all the streets are one way and I lose my cool. I also don’t do well making left turns without a light and I panic if I have to parallel park. That’s the only kind of parking in East Boston so right away I was having conniptions. I did the only thing I could think of. I begged Himself to take a personal day from school so he could drive. I owe him big time.

She called to give me the details of the funeral.

“The funeral is at Wednesday at three o’clock at the Sacred Heart Church. We don’t have to go to the Rapino’s (funeral parlor) and there won’t be a graveside service, but I don’t know how we are going to get to the church!”

I heard the unmistakable sound of Velcro loops locking together as she raised her wrist to her forehead. Part of me wanted to sing the song by Vanity Fair. “A thumb goes up, a car goes by Oh, won't somebody stop and help a guy? Hitchin' a ride, hitchin' a ride” Instead, I stifled the ‘Help me, Lord’ sigh and said, “Don’t worry, Ma, Himself and I will see that you get there.”

I called my friend, Red, to see if she could pick the Young One up at school. I owe Red big time.

I knew where the church was. It was down the street from Grandma’s house and around the block from Auntie’s. I had walked to confession and Mass a million times as a kid, but I had no clue how to drive there. Himself and I consulted Mapquest. Sacred Heart Church. 336 Saratoga Street.

Armed with our directions, the Weebles firmly buckled in the car, we headed to East Boston, near Logan Airport. It was pretty much a straight shot down the Pike from the Weebles. We drove through the new, pristine Ted Williams Tunnel and marveled how quickly the ride to the airport now was. The Weebles haven’t driven into Boston since the beginning of the Big Dig and they were amazed at the changes.

Ma mentioned her brother-in-law, Salvatore, had invited us back to his house for coffee after the Mass. I called Uncle from the car to tell him we were on the Pike. He said he would meet us at the church and reminded me we were to go back to his house for coffee.
We were zipping along splendidly, found the exit at the end of the Pike, made the left turn onto Bennington and then onto Neptune Road. According to Mapquest, a left at Neptune would put us onto Saratoga. Neptune Road ended and suddenly we were in the middle of the Circus Maximus.

All the streets were marked one way and none of them seemed to be in the direction we wanted to go in. Even though the Weebles grew up in the area, they weren’t helpful with directions.

“The church is around the corner from Guy’s.” Guy owned a small grocery store and surprise, the store is no longer there.

Himself patiently drove up and down streets, weaving through the maze of one way streets like a mouse searching for cheese. He turned down Morris St.

“This is the street Grandma used to live on!” I said. “Look, there’s the Sister’s school (Sacred Heart School). The church is down the next block.”

Sure enough, we found the church at the end of the street and could legally make a left turn onto Brooks Street. Himself pulled up to the curb where there was a handicap ramp. We offloaded the Weebles and Himself and I negotiated the maze of one way streets looking for a place to park. We ended up back on Morris St. and there was a parking space right in front of Grandma’s door. I liked to think the old lady was looking out for us. Himself parked the car and we walked to the church.

As I started to go up the steps of the church, I saw an old lady at the corner. The old lady was wearing a black coat with a fur collar. The old lady was pushing a walker.

What the hell? “Ma! Ma!” I yelled and ran up alongside of her. “What are you doing?”

“The church is locked. Your father went to find a way in.”

I saw Dad by some brick steps.

“The church is locked.”

I climbed the stairs and looked through the glass window of the door. I saw a doorbell and rang it. The door was opened by an older woman and I suddenly realized I was at the rectory.

“May I help you?”

“Yes, we’re here for the funeral for my uncle, but the church is locked.”

She looked at me as if I my horns were showing, and I worried that the lintel was going to collapse because I was standing on the hallowed threshold.

“The funeral isn’t today,” she said.

I looked at her as if she was speaking a foreign language.

My mouth opened and closed and I realized I must have looked like a codfish.

“Won’t you come in?” and she opened the door wide.

I stepped into the foyer and she lead me into the church office. She pulled out the church record. “The funeral is tomorrow at 3pm.”

“But the funeral for the Uncle is today!” I pleaded. The small voice in my head reminded me there was no hearse out front and a submarine klaxon began to blare.

She stepped across the hall and stuck her head into another office and asked about the date and time for the funeral. "Father..." I could hear her voice drop in volume to a respectful whisper.

“Father Salducci has the Uncle’s funeral at three o’clock tomorrow afternoon,” said the priest.

I wanted to scream. But we came today! We came from Worcester [Land of Here There Be Dragons]. We drove the Weebles. There damn well better be a #$$%&^%^ funeral today! If not the Uncle’s, somebody’s! Can’t the priest say the Mass today? We don’t really need the casket. It’s just a decoration anyway.
All hands! Rig for crash! We're headed to the bottom!

The woman gently ushered me out to the steps. “Who told you the funeral was today?”

I pointed at Ma at the bottom of the stairs. J’accuse! I wanted to throttle someone. Ma was the first choice, followed by the church secretary, the Pastor, and Dad for good measure.

I spent a good ten minutes trying to get through to Ma the date and time were incorrect. Both Ma and Dad were befuddled. I tried calling Uncle Salvatore’s house, but there was no answer. He must have been on his way to the church. I told Ma and Dad to stay in front of the rectory and Himself and I would bring the car around. We headed for Morris St.

As we rounded the corner in front of the church, there was Uncle Salvatore walking up and down the sidewalk.

“Uncle! Uncle!”

He smiled, shouted my name, and opened his arms to me in a big hug.

“Ma got the date wrong. The funeral is tomorrow.”

“Where’s your mother?”

“She and Dad are waiting out in front of the rectory.”

Uncle introduced Himself and I to his lady friend, Bee. We shook hands and she invited us back to the house.

Himself said he would bring the car around and I was to bring Uncle Salvatore and his friend to Ma and Dad.

It was quite cold and the wind had picked up. Ma was shivering and whining she was cold. Not much I could do because the church was locked! We stood like penguins and the old folks caught up with each other. The last time we had been together was three years ago at Uncle Salvatore’s surprise 80th birthday. So we waited and waited for Himself to bring the car around.

Uncle Salvatore and Bee had walked to the church, and Bee decided she would walk back to put the coffee on.

I caught a glimpse of Himself coming around Neptune, but he missed the turn and disappeared. I ran to the front of the church hoping to flag him down as he came down Morris St. No such luck.

Uncle decided to go get his car so he could take Ma and Dad back to the house to get warmed up. I would wait for Himself. Uncle Salvatore gave me the directions to get back to his house.

Uncle brought his car around to the rectory and helped Ma and Dad to get in. I turned to walk to the front of the church and there was Himself parked in front of the church by the handicap ramp where we started nearly an hour before.

"Only my family can screw up a one car funeral! Can you believe the church is locked?"

"Sad, but the churches don't stay open like they used to."

"That sux! You can't claim sanctuary anymore!"

We negotiated the streets with Uncle Salvatore’s directions and pulled up in front of his house. There was an empty spot right in front of his door and Himself started the maneuver to parallel park the car.

“Wait! Don’t park here. This is probably Uncle Salvatore’s space. Go further down. If we don’t find a space we can take a right and park on Bremen St., behind Uncle’s house.”

Maybe the old lady was still watching out for us because there was a space about 3 or 4 houses down from Uncle Salvatore’s.

At Uncle Salvatore’s, Bee was bustling around the kitchen, setting the table with cups, plates and food. Italians always celebrate moments of great joy, sorrow or the mundane with copious amounts of food. She poured coffee and tea, and brought out cheese and crackers, Scali bread, eggplant Parmagiana, a frittata, and calzone.

It felt strange sitting around the dining room table and Auntie Dotie not there. Auntie passed away 6 years ago and her daughter, Dee (2 yrs older than me), passed away 8 months later. Bee was very gracious and I’m pleased Uncle Salvatore has a companion.
We spent the afternoon reminiscing and catching up on the doings of Uncle’s son, grandchildren, and great grandchild.

Bee thought I looked a lot like Cousin Dee’s friend Margaret.

“Oh, no,” Ma piped up. “Margaret is thin.”

“Want some ice for that burn?” Himself whispered.

The conversation turned to the improvements Uncle Salvatore made in the house.

“You know, Sal,” began Ma. “I need a good plumber, not you.”

I passed the ice pack to Uncle Salvatore.

Ma went on about the remodeling she wants to do in the bathroom when her millions come in.

Since Bee was a new audience Ma began telling her how I only go out to them once a month, if that, and I never visit. (Surprisingly, she didn’t sing the ‘He’s Stupid’ song. She must have realized she would be slam dunked with the ‘Who Effed Up the Date of the Funeral’ song.)

“Whoa, back up the Elder bus,” I said. “I take you to the foot doctor, the heart specialist, and the primary care doctor. When you broke your wrist, I took you to the emergency room. I took you to three follow up appointments with the orthopedist.”

“Well, you don’t come to visit,” she sniffed.

“I came to visit you one Sunday. You said ‘I fell, look at my wrist.’ I took you to the emergency room. I visited with you for four and a half hours in the emergency room. It wasn’t my fault, you fell and we had to spend our time in the emergency room.”

“Well, you don’t stay for lunch.”

“I planned on staying for lunch. It wasn’t my fault that your primary care doctor kept you waiting for your appointment for an hour and a half and I couldn’t stay for lunch because I had to get back to pick the Young One up from school. If I’m such an awful kid, see if my twin sister will do better by you!”

Ma furrowed her brow. “But you don’t have a twin.”

“Bingo! Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Sensing the conversation might deteriorate to blows, Himself mentioned how it was getting late and we had best get on the road.
Uncle invited us back to the house tomorrow after the funeral.

Uncle Salvatore gave us directions back to the Pike. We missed the turn and passed the gas tanks.

Ma started singing the “You’re going the wrong way song.”

“We know!” we shouted.

“Why don’t you go through Chelsea?”

As kids, when we were annoying, one of the adults would say “Here’s a quarter. Go play in the tunnel.” The tunnel fare has gone up and I was tempted to give Ma three dollars.

A right turn brought us out to 1A. Himself missed the turn to the Pike, so we ended up going around Logan Airport on the exit road. Fortunately, Ma had nodded off and we eventually made it to the Pike and the tunnel and Boston rush hour traffic. All we would see for miles was red tail lights strung out like Christmas lights.

Back at the Weebles, Ma sank wearily into her chair. “Oh, I don’t know what we are going to do tomorrow. If you can’t make it, don’t worry about us.”

I should have said, “Great! See ya.” Instead, I told her not to worry. We would see that she got to her brother’s funeral.

After all, we were in an effin movie. Tomorrow, it would be Groundhog’s Day all over again.


Nutterone said...

OK, part of me is laughing... Part of me is cheering you for standing up to ma and still getting her to the funeral today and part of me is sad... You are my Hero, CJ! I will think of you often when my own Weebles are here!

Erica Vetsch said...

I'm cracking up! You are so funny! And you didn't leave her there? You saint.

Donna Alice said...

You're a good daughter and you sure tell a good story. I did however kind of trip over the part about the "million" times you went to Mass and confession as a kid. Although--no, I won't say it. :)

Sounds like something that would happen to me--the only reason I can laugh is because it wasn't. Sorry!