Saturday, January 20, 2007

Remembering Will

Written Saturday, January 20, 2007 

I went to Will Mecom's memorial service today. It was beautiful and sedate and elegant, with candles and communion and dignified behavior, and about ten minutes into it I thought, "What the hell IS this?" I looked around in horror at all my dry-eyed, quiet fellow mourners and wondered if I was actually dreaming that I was at some ghastly Stepford gathering and then I realized why it all felt so peculiar to me: I've never been to a funeral outside the south. "Ohhhhh .. I thought. This is how non-insane cultures do death. Interesting.."

I grew up in Georgia, but my "people" (for all you Yankees that means "extended family") are from Sand Mountain, Alabama. Down south, we don't have funerals - we have throwdowns. There's none of this stale "keep the remains out of sight" business like there was today at Will's urn-less affair. No sirree - you don't cheat your kin out of a good show by getting cremated. You get dressed up, painted up and laid up in a fancy coffin and displayed at the funeral home (or if you can't afford that, in your living room next to the egg salad and the Crimson Tide game on TV), and people swirl around you with great wailing and gnashing of teeth for three solid days. Your church provides two sturdy wooden signs to post out on the interstate near your home, in both directions, that say in a very Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-style giant, shakily hand-painted font: DEATH.

Women take center stage at southern funerary shindigs. They pass out, they kiss the corpse and get chest pains and they throw themselves into the coffins of men who were not even their husbands. It's all great fun. A 300-pound maw-maw always has to be carted out of there like James Brown at the end of a concert. People sweat, false teeth are spontaneously ejected in the throes of emotional turmoil, and sometimes fights erupt and are carried on a wave of hysteria out onto the front lawn. If you're lucky you might even get to see a little gunplay. 

My friend Jeff Reed drowned when I was in high school and my best friend Michael and I went to his service at the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Jeff's church was located in a storefront that used to be, I believe, a tire store and it had no air conditioning. This was unfortunate because Jeff had passed away in the middle of the Georgia summer, it was 110 degrees with a humidity factor of 4000 percent and everybody was all dressed up in hats and ties and support hose. I think that funeral still holds the world's record for the most unconscious morbidly obese women at the end of it. They were piled up on the sidewalk outside like cordwood. The best feature of that funeral, though, was a massive super-serious man with a floor-shaking baritone voice who would occasionally cruise the pews, singing, with a box of pink Kleenex in his giant outstretched hand. It was like being serenaded by Barry White in the midst of your grief and turmoil. Women would take a tissue and he'd lock eyes with them and sing, "Come Home, Come Hooooommmmme.." and they'd shriek and drop to the floor. God, that was awesome. I want that guy at MY funeral.

So today was very stale and odd. I was all ready with a purse full of Kleenex to squawl my brains out, get hold of myself and then boo-hoo all over again in subsequent lurching waves for the remainder of the day. I was prepared to "take to my bed," exhausted and drained, for 72 hours afterwards like I've done for all the funerals I've attended. Now I have all this excess energy and I'm not entirely sure what to do with myself.

Come to think of it, here was one memorable moment the memorial service today. The priest who baptized Will repeated an email joke that Will had sent him a few years ago. Like many of us, Will was damaged tremendously by growing up in the Bible Belt among nutcase fundamentalists (who in my opinion have done more to destroy Christianity than the Roman Empire ever could have, but don't get me started.) and he always joked that he was a "recovering Evangelical." All us, his recovering Evangelical and recovering Catholic friends, had a good chuckle with him over this one:

Growing up in the Baptist church I learned two things:

1. That God loves you, and you're going to Hell.

2. That sex is the filthiest, most disgusting thing you could ever do, so you
should save it for someone you love.

Good bye dear sweet William, and thanks for the laughs. : )