When my dad died in 1996, there was one uproarious moment during the formal mourning period, a story that has been told and retold, tilled and retooled.
First came the evening wake at the funeral home, a highly populated event. The next day there was the funeral at the massive Catholic church with aisles filled. It was our parish church. My siblings and I all went to the grade school next to it. The next day was the burial, a ceremony that began at the church. The immediate family had a final viewing of the body, then we went out the side door of the church to get in a hearse that would lead a procession of cars to the graveyard. There were many emotional spikes during these days, and for me, there were two major ones on this day. One was during the final viewings. The other was the uproarious moment I’m working toward.
My mom died in 1986. Four years later, my dad married an angel. Her name is Jackie. The immediate family that was in the hearse was me, my three siblings — Jude, David, and Paul — Jude’s 16-year-old daughter Josephine, and
The graveyard was several miles due north from the church. But we didn’t take the shortest route. Instead, because of David’s brilliant idea, the caravan went south and west, about a mile, to the fabled Horseshoe Stadium on the campus of Ohio State University, where my dad taught for 31 years without ever missing one day. And he went to every home football game. And he used to play handball with Woody Hayes. People around here like to say “I bleed Scarlet and Grey.” Buckeye fans remind me a little of how poker players can all think they are better than everyone else. I’ve seen Buckeye fans enraged over who is the more maniacally devoted fan. But they’re just fans. They don’t live right next to campus and spend most of their days on it every year for a lifetime. I never saw my dad with an open wound. I can’t help but wonder though, just what color his blood really was.
So this huge trail of cars went down to the stadium and lapped it. It was the right thing to do. No doubt that just like the rest of us, the stadium wanted to say goodbye to Ralph.
Back on High Street, heading north, the mood in the hearse was light. Ups and downs are really just two sides of one coin, I began to notice during this time. We’re driving along, and Josephine said something that was incorrect. I can’t recall what it was. I can’t even recall what kind of error she made. It could have been something grammatical, since that is one of the types of things that people in my family are in the habit of correcting. Or it could have been something stated as a fact that wasn’t. Whatever it was, she said something that was incorrect, and my brother David quickly corrected her.
And Paul said to David, “So who died and put you in charge?”
We laughed and laughed and cried and laughed and did it some more.