Fri 8 Nov 2013
When I was 15, my step-grandmother, who I called “Nahni,” passed away at the ripe old age of 82 while visiting her niece in Washington state. Nahni had become quite the traveler in her later years, sometimes showing up unannounced and uninvited at relatives’ doorsteps and staying for weeks at a time. We knew it was a real burden on them, but no one ever complained. Nahni was a beloved matriarch, and as much of a pain in the you-know-what she was, everyone loved her. On one such visit, she had broken her hip on the way out the door after a two week stay and had to stay another eight weeks. At 15, I was sure that was a joy for everyone.
So, Nahni died. My dad had her body shipped back and, as her only living heir, made the arrangements for her funeral. He did a great job. It was a beautiful funeral, though we were a little disappointed that the new Methodist preacher was going to do the service. Our old preacher, who had been at our church for as long as I could remember, had moved to another city, and nice as he was, this new guy didn’t even know Nahni. He’d never met her. But what can you do? Dad filled him in on a few of the more salient points about Nahni…the fact that she loved tulips…the fact that she loved to travel and did so often…she loved apple pie. You know; the regular kind of stuff a guy can build a sermon around.
As the funeral began, Mom and Dad sat in the front row. I and my sister Marianne, who was 27 at the time, sat in the row behind them, and my dad’s double cousin, Ralph, and his sons, John and Woody, sat behind us. Once everyone was seated, the preacher stepped up to the podium and began the service. He did pretty well for a guy who never knew the subject of his sermon. He retold some of the stories Dad had passed along to him and wove Nahni’s traveling kind of like a theme through the sermon, coming back to it again and again.
One thing never to do when you get tickled while in a solemn place: catch your sister’s eye, especially if she is also tickled.
And she was. Oh, Lord, she was.
Head bent, I looked over at her, and our eyes met. I knew she was getting as much a kick out of the way he was portraying the traveling stuff as I was, because the second our eyes locked, her chin quivered ever so slightly. Of course, then, recognizing this in each other, we could barely contain ourselves. It was all we could do not to laugh out loud, but somehow…God knows how, really…we did.
We never really did regain control throughout the rest of the sermon, which was (Thank GOD) relatively short. We didn’t laugh out loud, but we had to keep our heads bent and couldn’t look at one another, because we both had huge grins on our faces. Every now and then, our shoulders–hers or mine or both–would shake from the pent up and silent laughter that would erupt from time to time.
Then, we could tell the sermon was ending. The preacher was winding down, and we both felt relief flood through us, because that had been hard. Very hard. We absolutely had not wanted to laugh at our dad’s mother’s funeral. How awful would that have been? And just as we knew the end was near, the preacher said, “Gladys Wolverton…your boarding pass has now been accepted to Heaven.”
And that was it. We lost it. Our shoulders shook up and down, our laughter came out sounding pinched, because we were still trying so hard to hold it in. And that’s when my Uncle John*, who was sure we were weeping–because to everyone else, that’s what it sounded like and certainly looked like with our shoulders shaking like that–put his sympathetic hand on each of our shoulders.
I’m telling you, it was all we could do not to fall onto the floor right there and wail with laughter.
Somehow, we regained our composure before anyone knew the truth. We got out of there, looking like we’d been crying, because tears of laughter also leave you with dark circles under your red rimmed eyes, and made it to her car where we fell into each other’s arms and laughed until our sides hurt.
Best. Funeral. EVER.
*John was really Dad’s second double-cousin, but that was too complicated and genetically speaking, he was as closely related as an uncle. Feel free to Google “double cousin.”