Tuesday, June 19, 2007

They Called Him Buddy

I WAS SURPRISED AT HOW HEAVY the body was, despite the fact that six of us carried it.

The ceremony was a short, utilitarian affair. It started 2 minutes early, and we were asked not to wear suits.

"Black pants, a white shirt, and a tie," my mother said. "Just make sure the tie isn't red."

As pallbearers, I thought that we might at least wear white gloves, especially in this faraway place of rituals we grew up knowing as only "The Country." So, I was a little surprised at the end of the fifty-five minute ceremony when the pastor said, "Will the pallbearers please rise and exit the church?" and within seconds, I was out in the 95-degree heat with my bare right hand wrapped around the cool steel of the casket rail.


They called him Buddy, but he was born J_hn Wesley Byrd. He was my Mother's father, which made him my grandfather. He passed early Friday morning after 88 years from a sudden bout of pneumonia, just short of Father's Day.

If my Mother and her siblings had had their way, the body would have arrived by mule. Instead, a sky-blue hearse delivered his body to Hopewell Baptist Church in Upatoi, Georgia, and a matching limousine carried his seven living children.

The funeral staff granted the family's wishes to keep the ceremony's pace swift. In fact, it left my Aunt Mae on the outside of the church:

"She's still in the limousine," my Mother, Lucille, whispered to her sister, Brenda.

"Why's she still in the limousine?" Brenda whispered back. "The friends and guests are almost finished viewing the body, and they gonna close the casket!"

"She's locked in it," my Mother said. "She can't get out."

"Whatchu mean she cain't get out. Tell her to open the door!" Brenda said.

"Brenda, she's locked in. It won't open from the inside or the outside."

"Oh Lawd," Brenda said. "Clarence," she said to their brother. "'Cille say Mae in the limousine and she cain't get out."

"How she got locked in the limousine?"

"I don't know," Brenda said, "but we gotta hurry up. They gonna close the casket in a couple of minutes."

"Well, she saw the body yesterday," Clarence said.

"Clarence!" my Mother quipped.

"Well, where the driver at?" he asked.

"Ain't that him on the organ?" Brenda said.

"No," my Mother said. "There he is, standing over there. M_rvin, go and see if you can get the driver to help your Aunt Mae. Hurry up, now before the casket closes!"

When the limo driver freed my aunt from the limousine, her first words to him were not, "How in the hell did you lock me in the limousine?" but:

"That's just Daddy having his last word."


The graveyard was maybe fifty yards from the front door of the church, but it felt like Grandpa's 147 pound body gained a pound with each step. Such is this heaviness:

This is the soil where my Father's Grandfather is buried (1886-1965). This is the soil where my Father's Grandmother is buried (1888-1969). This is the soil where my Father's Mother is buried. This is the church where my Father's father was a deacon.

This is the soil where my Mother's mother is buried. This is where, today, we bury my Mother's father.

This is the church where my Mother met my Father.

This is where, today, we bury my Mother's father.

What a wonderful weight to bear.

All of these years, I never really understood how intertwined my Mother's and Father's families were - how small these worlds.

My cousin behind me kept stepping on my right heel. For once in my life, my world shrank to a very singular purpose: Carry this weight and don't fall.

"Turn," I heard a voice say. "Now switch hands." The pallbearers switched hands. "Now, lift up once." We lifted. "Now, once again." We lifted again. "Now, one final time."

And with the final heave, the work was done. Without a fuss, the casket lowered into the ground.


Tara Betts said...

Sorry to hear about your loss. We should talk soon.
take care,

Two Write Hands said...

So, so sorry. What you have written is beautiful.

BLUE said...

our death rituals are so intriguing, aren't they?

sorry to hear about your grandfather, but glad you were able to *be* infused in the *ceremony*.


M. Ayodele Heath said...

Thank you all for your kindness. My grandfather lived a very long and full life. From his own mouth, he was ready to go.

He'll definitely live on in my work.

Collin said...

Really beautiful, Ayo. Sorry to hear about your grandfather, but what a lovely tribute.

Anonymous said...

Hey Stranger!
I'm sorry to hear that you lost your grandfather. Only YOU could turn this into something semi- comical...h_ ll it was funny. I laughed my A_ _ off. I hope that was your intent. I really miss our weekly words and the daily conversations of the 3 Amigos and sometimes Q.

The Observer

Mega Rich said...

Beautiful prose. I felt like I was back in the country in Lady Lake, FL where my grandparents hail.

Anonymous said...

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