I went to a good funeral this week. The service was simple; the songs and the text, the musicians and the singer and the pastor and Freda and everyone there and everyone gone woven together. Hardanger, maybe, or maybe lace, the empty spots part of the pattern. The flowers were white; not daisies but chrysanthemums and lilies and roses. I think it was the lilies that smelled so good; deep and powerful, full enough of spring and insistent life for you to pause, for a moment, there by the casket, inside away from the dark and the cold.
People were pretty much ready for this one, because Freda was A Hundred and Six Years Old. She lost her husband at 94, started forgetting her name in her late 90′s, lost the memory of her married life, lost the memory of her daughter, her granddaughter. Maybe she kept on for so long because she forgot what was supposed to come next, maybe it just never occurred to her.
She was old country, I suppose you’d call it. First generation born here, and Born Here Back Then. Parents come in from Germany, and a farming background. Natural talent in painting put aside, or moved on from, we don’t know; she kept her hand in with needle arts. All of the needle arts – tatting and crochet and knitting and sewing and masterful counted cross-stitch – maybe not embroidery, but I think I’m probably wrong with that. Big garden, canning, bread on wednesdays, working in the shop. Artisan is the word I’m using, people who connect with you some when they’re talking, but when you see them doing you see their whole being engage.
There was this story, about how she punched a 90-year-old guy. Course she was about that old herself, and like her husband said, “She never really liked him anyway.” Maybe some people don’t mellow, or maybe this is Not Aging Gracefully. Doesn’t matter; it was about a minute of her life and it’s funny as hell, and maybe it showed a big part of Freda but mostly I remember her turning away from some task or coming in to light in a chair or passing a bowl at the table with this brightness in her eyes, and a certainty in her step. She wore serious shoes, I remember. Or call them sensible, pragmatic; ready to do what needed to be done.
In the gray light at the graveside, while I watched the pallbearers and the people and studied the workings of the lowering ratchets, the scent came to me again from the flowers like a memory. We let the balloons go into the darkening sky, and let go of Freda, and moved back into the web of our lives.