Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Ice Man Cometh

Friday morning we packed up the car and Kathy and I drove to Cincinnati for Uncle Mick's funeral. Kathy did well on the drive despite her aching broken shoulder. We arrived at our hotel by 3:30 and unloaded the suitcases in our room. Quite a few people were at the funeral home by the time we arrived. I spoke to many cousins I knew (and several I don't know), and enjoyed looking at the slide show and photo boards Mick's kids had put together. His casket was closed because he hit his face when he fell. I was surprised that the funeral home wasn't able to work around that by putting the injured side away from the opening of the casket, and working their make-up magic. I found it really hard to say good-bye when I couldn't see his sweet face.

There was no autopsy done, which also surprised me. I thought that they always did one when the cause of death was unknown. Did he simply fall and hit his head just so on the window sill? Did he have a heart attack, which caused the fall? Did he have a stroke first? I would want to know. What they do know is that he was out on his screened in porch in his winter coat (it was cold last Saturday night) listening to an Italian opera and smoking a cigar. His son and daughter-in-law found him at 3:00 Sunday afternoon. They could hear the opera playing as they walked down the hall of the condominium complex. I'm surprised no neighbors complained if the music played all night.

We stayed at the wake until the funeral home kicked us out around 6:15. Ten of us then went to the Price Hill Chili Parlor for supper. I spied chocolate covered baklava on the menu, so I had a bowl of soup so I could indulge in dessert. Awesome! Kathy and I got back to our hotel room around 9:15. It was beginning to mist as we drove back to the hotel, and that was just the beginning. The forecast was for an inch of ice to develop. Great...It brought back really bad memories of my dad's funeral in Cincinnati in 2004. We had rain, ice, sleet and inches of snow all within a 24 hour period. Hardly anyone could get to the funeral, and fewer still headed to the cemetery for the military burial service.

The funeral director had advised that we arrive early Saturday morning for the funeral because a) the church is in a really bad neighborhood and b) parking is a problem. Kathy and I took him at his word. I went out to scrape the ice off my car at 8:10. Twenty minutes later I was finally able to see out of the windows. I picked Kathy up under the overhang of the hotel and we crept across one of the bridges over the Ohio River to downtown Cincinnati. We arrived at the church at 9:00. The funeral was to begin at 10:00. We were the first ones there. We even beat the immediate family. This is why we were so close to the beginning of the funeral procession, which becomes important later in the story.

The Old St. Mary's Church is absolutely amazing inside. It was built in 1841 and is reminiscent of the churches in Europe. Apparently Uncle Mick had done some of the painting on the ceiling (just like Michelangelo, he would joke) during the restoration of the church, as well as behind the altar. He also helped author a book on the history of the church. (You can begin to see why he and I had so much in common.)

The priest who conducted the funeral was of Spanish descent, and to be honest I only understood about half of what he was saying. At one point I thought he said something about "release the cocktails". I puzzled on that for a moment until I realized he said "release the captives." Then I thought I heard him say a "hologram to heaven" - never did figure that one out. Irreverently the Saturday Night Live skit with Father Guido Sarducci (wrong country, I know) popped into my head during the service. Find the pope in the pizza contest... I was disappointed that the there wasn't a little more personalization to the Mass considering all that Uncle Mick had done for the church. The man who did the second reading - a cousin to Uncle Mick's deceased wife - tried to make that happen. When he approached the microphone he said, "I'd like to make an observation..." and then he stopped. Apparently the second priest, who was seated behind where he was speaking said, "No! No observations!" It was an awkward moment. One thing that was interesting about the Mass is that for communion we all came up and knelt at the communion rail, and you took the host on your tongue not in your hands. (Okay, that kind of sounds like an M & M commercial.)

Following Mass we went in procession to Spring Grove Cemetery. This is the same cemetery that my cousin Gina and I had photographed when I was in Cincinnati in August. It is similar to the Fort Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis in that it is beautiful, hilly and filled with the who's who of city founding fathers. The first thing we saw when we drove through the gates was a sign that said something about hazardous driving conditions, and enter at your own risk. Not good. We were the fourth car in the procession following the hearse. Things were going okay until we came to a steep hill and the vehicles ahead of me came to a stop. My first thought was no! Don't stop going up the hill; I'll never get started again. My second was that this is where they expected us to park for the graveside funeral, and that we would have to walk up an icy hill. Not happening! Then I noticed that the hearse was sliding sideways. The driver got out of the vehicle and waved the car behind him around. He got back in the hearse and tried again. This time he slid off the side of the road. You can see in the picture where the other cars are in relation to where the hearse ended up. As the funeral director and his assistant were contemplating what to do, I noticed that the car behind me was right on my back bumper. Really? There was no way for me to even try to turn around with him so close.
After consulting on their phones, they decided we all would have to back down the hill and they would conduct the service at the chapel. I don't do backup well. Even on a straight, dry area. Now they want me to back down a steep, curving, icy hill? I gave the bumper parker plenty of time to get down the hill before I began my descent to a flat area where I could turn around on the side street. By now there were only two vehicles ahead of me and one behind me from our procession. The blind leading the blind through this huge cemetery. Which chapel? There are at least six in the cemetery. You've heard of the wedding crashers? We were the funeral crashers, as we weren't the only ones trying to bury a loved one on an icy, miserable January day.

We finally located cars with our particular funeral flags on their roofs and hurried in to hear the priest speak his last words over the casket. (I later learned that they were going to start without us until one of my cousins informed the funeral director that Mick's two sisters and her out of town cousins were not present yet.) Here was the personalized eulogy I had been hoping to hear. This priest obviously knew my uncle well, and shed tears with the rest of us. The marines came in as Taps was played, and the military burial service was conducted. Not a dry eye in the house.

Following this final service we all headed over to the club house of Mick's condominium complex for a reception. It was very nice, and you couldn't help but think how much Mick would have enjoyed seeing everyone. It broke up around 5 and Kathy & I along with Aunt Margie and her son Pat, daughter Mary Ann, and Mary Ann's daughter Gina decided to go out to supper. We told stories and had some laughs, and I think it helped take Margie's mind off of her brother's death for a bit. I had told Mary Ann that we would give Margie a ride home because it was out of her way to take her mom home and she had to pack for a business trip. Anyway Kathy and I had not had any time alone with Margie and normally we get to spend a lot of time with her when we are in town. Aunt Margie will turn 90 this summer, but she still lives at home and drives herself everywhere. Except when the iceman cometh.

After we ate I went to move my car as close to the restaurant as I could. Gina got her grandma settled in the front seat and Kathy got into the back. Because of her broken shoulder she cannot fasten the seat belt by herself. Mary Ann tried to help her and she couldn't get it to work. Then Gina opened the other back door and tried to approach it from that direction. She slipped on some ice and barely was able to catch herself. By now we were all laughing so hard we couldn't see straight. I asked the question, "How many Crushams does it take to fasten a seat belt?" They finally got her buckled in and we headed over to Margie's.

When I pulled into her driveway, it was a sheet of ice. She opened her garage door and I pulled as close as I could to the back of her car. I still had to slowly walk around my car holding on for dear life to get to her car door. After getting her safely into the garage I then had to get Kathy from my back seat into the front for a slip-slidey trip back across the river to our hotel. I was never so happy to get to a hotel room as I was last night. The drive home today was accomplished not with ice but with fog instead. Ei, yi, yi! But we made it, so that is all that matters at this point.

1 comment:

Mrs. Wryly said...

What a day! You and your sister are loyal relatives to take all of that on. Ice makes me shiver, and not just because it's cold.....