Theres always a first for everything I guess.
The first time you ride a bike.
The first kiss.
The first time you get lost on a road trip.
It was 1985 and I was fifteen. I was a young fifteen though. My father’s mom had passed away that summer. She was first generation Italian. She had left 7 sons. Growing up my family seemed a lot like the Sopranos. The kitchen was always the center of the house, smoke-filled. The men sat around the table and the women cooked and talked. The smoke was so thick that us kids took to sitting underneath the tables so we could breathe more easily. My grandma died in the operating theatre and never made it through surgery. It was the first time I ever saw my dad cry when he received the phone call.
When I got to the funeral home, it smelled like eucalyptus and carnations. I never forgot the smell, it was so stifling it made me gag. Yankee Candle needs to come up with a scent called “funeral home” because there hasn’t been a wake since that I’ve been to that hasn’t had the same wake-y smell. I saw the casket but avoided it. I could hear my uncle in the bathroom moaning “ohhhh the agita…..” as he popped more Tums.
Eventually two of my uncles literally shoved me and my cousin up to the casket and told us to pay our respects. We knelt down, scared shit. Grandma didn’t look like grandma. Her hands clasping her rosary beads. My uncles standing behind us with their commentary, “They didn’t do a good job on her, the make up isn’t right, it’s too orange.” and “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, she’s seeping! I want to talk to the Goddamn director where is that son-o-fa-bitch.” All I could think of was what the hell is seeping? Then in one horrifying moment my uncle jumped into the coffin and kissed her.
I whispered to my cousin, “how long do we have to kneel here?” she whispered back “I don’t know, enough to say a Hail Mary and an Our Father?” Then she did the unthinkable, she touched grandma’s hand and said, “she’s cold and stiff.” So then I did the unthinkable and I touched her hand. It was cold and stiff. I think I closed my eyes and my prayer was something like, “dear God, please let me stop kneeling because my grandma isn’t here and I don’t know where she is but I know she’s not here and this is just creepy. Amen.”
The only good thing was the reception after the wake where thw grown-ups got loaded and we got some good food at the Chinese restaurant.
I wonder what lies beyond this life? I sure hope all that I am, my consciousness will go on, transcend to some place else. It would be a damn shame if it didn’t…..