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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"...Everything is a pretext for a good dinner"

So I spent a day last week-end at a "Celebration of Life". My 92 year old uncle, he of the Mexican adventure, died, I would like to say peacefully but I actually have no idea, my cousin (his daughter) is a world class twit and neglected to tell anybody much of anything, for all I know he died fighting an oil rig fire.

I got the call about 10:30 a week ago, from my father. My cousin, the twit, had called him to tell him her dad had died and oh, boo hoo, she'd been trying to get a hold of me all afternoon but I wasn't answering my cell, or my house, or my office phones. No, I wasn't home that night, we scored tickets to Jimmy Kimmel that night, free yes, however the show ended with a live 30 minute set by "Them Crooked Vultures" and we got home about 10 minutes to 10. There were no calls before I left the office, and no calls on my cell. There were no calls on the house phone. Par for the course.

Okay, the funeral will be on Friday, at a place called Sunny Pastures or Golden Dreams or something. 5pm. That was ALL the information available to us. I'm thinking it's a cemetery and I'm gonna have to Google it. My father didn't know where it was either but we both wanted to finish "Castle" and go to bed. And so we did.

The next morning there was a message on my office phone, a cheereful "call me when you have a minute" that was left at 8:30 at night. I am NOT that dedicated. So, 'natch, I called her. Full of sympathy and understanding. What did she need or want me to do, she's out of town and, according to her, has the flu.

"Nothing. Everything's being handled. There will be a private service for family on Saturday so I wanted you and your father to know you need to come Friday."

Now my cousin and I don't exactly get along. We haven't since the gypsies left her on my aunt and uncle's doorstep, after finding out they couldn't sell that brat.

However, as funerals are a naturally stressful time, I decided to keep my mouth shut and not remind my cousin that, as she was brought home from the orphanage, I'm probably more closely related to her father that SHE is and said "yeah, fine, see you Friday" and hung up. I do NOT want to start anything now.

I remembered that "Shady Futures" was the retirement community my uncle lived in. I'd been there on visits and, except for steaming that my cousin chose to have the service smack in the middle of get-away day drive time, I pressed my suit, ordered my flowers and shut the hell up.

My uncle was an engineer. A flight engineeer, a legendary flight engineer. He knew Billy Mitchell and Eddie Rickenbacker and Howard Hughes. So I spent a fair amount of time tracking down a die cast model of one of "his" planes and then found a florist who charged me an arm and a leg but designed an amazing floral piece around the plane and then got myself in a lather because I was going to have to carry my flowers and fully expected my cousin to give me grief over that. I could hear it: "I said no flowers" "why did you bring THOSE?" or "oh great, I'll just go put them in my car".

After slogging through a two hour trip Friday afternoon and wandering around the retirement village for 15 minutes we finally found the social hall that was the site of the afternoon's festivities. My cousin had neglected to tell anyone where they were supposed to go and this is one of those places that's more like a little town. A security guard in a golf cart led us around the streets and got us parked in the right vicinity after stopping at two other community rooms, apprently she hadn't even told SECURITY where she had booked this thing.

We walked into a hall, set up with balloons and round tables. There was a table by the door where people were leaving pictures and cards and such, I placed the flowers there. They were the only flowers in the room. There weren't many people there yet, most of them still being stuck on the I-5. My cousin wasn't there. There was coffee and punch though. At the scheduled 5pm start she was just leaving her hotel. At Disneyland. a 20 minute drive away at 3am on a Tuesday. They were, however, staying at a "local" place called the Embassy Suites and had NO idea that there was more than one of them, how were they to know when they made the reservations that Disneyland wasn't even remotely close to "Running Streams"?

The room was set up for WAY more people than actually showed up. We sat around and drank coffee and punch and inhaled a cheese platter someone went to the dining room and appropriated.

My cousin showed up an hour late, appropriately dressed in black jeans, a black shirt jacket over a black sequined tank. She carried an armload of framed pictures which she studiously placed on the table by the door, every single picture square in front of a tribute brought by another person. She then took the mike from my uncle's biological daughter (from his first marriage) and announced we were all going to tell stories. Well, SHE and her husband were going to tell stories while her daughter let her three young children run around the room untying balloons. Someone would eventually get the mike, tell a story and she would then take it back and announce "oh, and another thing..." After 90 minutes of her stories and a few told by well meaning engineer friends who probably found each other's tales of cockpit adjustments hilarious there was a short break and my cousin plunked her bony ass at our table.

"Gee, I thought there would be more people here. I really expected to see Aunt Matilda, she should have come." Well, fortified by the pop top can of rose that had been distributed for the toast I look her square in her uneven brown eyes and said "did you call her?"


Seems she had the "flu" and only got through the letter D in the address book. "Um, Aunt Matilda's last name begins with a "C".

So, here we are, celebrating a life of someone who had enough friends to fill the L.A. Memorial Coliseum but only those who's last names started with the first FOUR letters of the alphabet were in attendance. "Who did you ask to take over the calls, I think they dropped the ball" I said, sympathetically. "Oh no one. I think this is a nice group, don't you?" See, I figured that she didn't make the calls because she was busy doing other things. Like arranging flowers and food. But, in her own, inimitable way, every single offer of help wasn't politely declined, it was pretty much thrown in the garbage. Now, fwiw, I don't like the twit, but I HAVE, unfortunately, buried a parent. So had many of us. Been there, done that, sold the t-shirt. There are things that need to be done. You know, like calling the people in the deceased's address book, letters E-Z. Telling them the actual address of the Leaping Lizard Retirement Community. Telling the people who work AT Leaping Lizard where to direct people stopping at the gate. Stopping by the Albertson's Market next door and picking up a deli tray. Calling a freaking FLORIST.

"I didn't know I should have food here" she said. JEEZ, was it dark in the CAVE? Now maybe it's not right, but food=funeral. It just does. How the HELL you get to be 53 and not know that? She sure as ate after my mother's funeral. OF course, I actually CALLED her and told her my mother had died. And her last name at the time begans with an "M" so I didn't even HAVE to. But then, we had a funeral, not a punch and cookies wake. If you're going to have a wake, you need booze, not wine in pop top cans. And, while I'm at it, you cheap twit, if you wanted to pinch every one of the CONSIDERABLE pennies your father left you, and I DO mean CONSIDERABLE, you could have at least popped for some cheap champagne for the toast to his remarkable life, for gawd's sake, Trader Joe's has an EXTREMELY servicable Proseco for under seven bucks a bottle and there's a 10% discount on six or more bottles. THAT ROSE WAS CRAP! My husband's on freaking UNEMPLOYMENT and I would have brought better booze than she did. Oh yeah, that's right, she didn't NEED anyone else's help.

Well, we trooped out to the lawn and let the balloons go at sunset and piled in our cars headed for the local coffee shop. And sat quite comfortably in our suits and ties and dress shoes among the local car enthusiasts (because it was classic car night) and discussed what a horse's ass my cousin is. And then we discussed with glee many other times she had acted like a horses's ass.

All in all, it wrapped up nicely. But I still don't quite understand what's so wrong with a plain, old fashioned funeral? It's the only time I get good potato salad.

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