I was at a funeral last Monday. I had planned to go back to work right after the service because I had a project that had to be finished. Then they asked if I could be a pallbearer.
I take the responsibility of pallbearer very seriously. I don't want to brag, but I am a very good pallbearer. I meet the two basic requirements. I own a dark suit and do not trip easily.
I have to admit, though, I was not great during my first pallbearer gig. It was for my childhood friend Steve's grandmother. I knew the whole family. They were like a second family to me. One day, one of the grandchildren, Jim, left a note on my door. I was 18 or 19 and didn't have a phone. The note said simply, "Grandma Howell has died. We would like you to be a pole bear [sic]." Reading it threw me off. I didn't know she was close to death, and what exactly was a pole bear?
I have never seen a Russian circus in person, but I imagine it has bears in tutus riding unicycles. I imagined one of those bears sitting on a high pole like people did as stunts during the Depression. I thought the bear costume would be very hot but what the hell, I'll do it for Grandma Howell.
I didn't own a dark suit, so I wore a grey shirt. We were pretty young and poor, so no suits. I had a concern beforehand. I was quite a bit taller than the other pallbearers, and I was worried that my arm holding the casket would be higher than theirs. So before the service, we all stood next to each other. It turns out taller people have longer arms, and they line up with shorter peoples' shorter arms. Who knew?
I also learned that you shouldn't be a pallbearer with guys you know very well. Steve was one, his brothers Tom and Mick, me, then the Taylor brothers -- Wes and Jim. We knew each other way too well. We all had to sit together. Somebody said something then started nervously laughing, and the rest started in. We would get settled down then you would see your friend's shoulder move just slightly, indicating they were was trying to stifle the next round and off we would go.
Then we all rode back in the same stretch limo. One of the boys wanted to impress a girl who lived nearby, so we took the funeral signs off the limo and asked the driver to drive by this girl's house, twice. I'm sure she was very impressed.
As I aged, I got better as a pallbearer. I've probably done it more than 10 times, Again, I don't trip, and I own a dark suit. My wife has been a bridesmaid about that many times. The difference is I have never had to buy a new dress to be a pallbearer. The old joke in bridesmaid circles is "always a bridesmaid, never a bride." We in the brotherhood of pallbearers say "always a pallbearer never a ..." Actually no one in the circle has said it. We are supposed to be quiet.
About 23 years ago, my then-girlfriend's (now wife) grandmother died. My future father-in-law asked that I be one of the pallbearers. The chapel where the funeral was held balked because I was not of the right faith, nor was I married to the granddaughter. I was just a boyfriend. My future father-in-law stood up for me and said -- actually demanded -- that I be a pallbearer.
I remember cousins David and Joe also were pallbearers. My future father-in-law took me aside and explained that I was part of the family. My relationship with him strengthened, and five years later, I joined David and Joe again to take my father-in-law's casket out of the same chapel. There was no discussion on whether or not I belonged.
I started out as a pallbearer carrying my grandparents' generation, then it was my parents' and recently I carried my friend and co-worker Bob Smart from the chapel.
Who will carry me from the chapel? I am a big guy. My nephews don't own dark suits. Their untied shoes are a tripping hazard, and they nervously laugh.
I'd better wait a while.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday. He can be reached by email at Tlawlor@mcommunications.com.