Episode 7 — The Slumbering Pallbearer
It was a packed house…the chapel, was. It was standing room only for a man who was well known in our little community. I watched the events of the service from beneath the triple-decker church organ. I wondered why the family wanted to have the service here, instead of a larger venue, or even a church, for that matter.
The service seemed to take an eternity, as one by one, various people came up to say a few words about Mr. Calvin. I found that I could learn a lot about a deceased in listening to the eulogies that were shared.
Mr. Calvin was a World War II veteran, an esteemed pillar of the community, a volunteer for many different service organizations, past Exalted Ruler of the local ELKS, a Mason, a Shriner, Model Train enthusiast, fly fisherman, avid book reader, and the list went on. He was endeared by his adoring grandkids, all of which came up to talk about their beloved PaPa. As I craned my neck to look at the attendees, it was apparent that he had quite a following of admirers. The pallbearers were seated together in a pew across the aisle from the family. In their ‘Sunday best’ were six of his finest friends tasked with carrying his casket to the funeral coach (hearse) and then again from the coach to the cemetery plot. I could see they all must have been close in age, which was frankly, quite elderly. A few of them did not look like they were long for this world, themselves, sadly. Then I pondered the task they had: lifting that big heavy casket. I made a mental note to stay put, and NOT get underfoot when the time came to leave the service…
The clergy closed with the usual benediction and Mr. Becker and CJ began to dismiss the family and the others, pew by pew. Then, Mr. B gave the ‘nod’ to the lead man of the pallbearers, waving them to come to the sides of the casket and roll the bier to the vestibule. From there it would be a short path to the back of the coach. As they began to rise from the pew, I noticed that one of the men had fallen into a nap, as old men tend to do. The man seated closest gave the guy a tug on the elbow. However, there was no response from the fellow. “Hey, Charlie! C’mon, time to go now.” He gave another tug. Just then, Charlie began to tilt and then slumped over on his side!
Oh good heavens, I thought. Charlie was DEAD! The men were in disbelief. Meanwhile Mr. B. was waiting at the vestibule, with a peeved look on his face. He liked everything to be done exactly right and exactly on time and he was not happy to see the confusion among the men and the casket still sitting in the aisle. The family was seated in the limousine (family car) and everyone else was lined up for the procession in their own cars. It was a blazing hot summer afternoon, to boot.
Mr. B walked stiffly up to the front of the chapel, where the men had gathered around Charlie, some still trying to evoke a response from the dead man. However, Mr. B, God bless him, saw what had happened without even asking. So, without missing a beat, he instructed the five remaining men to each take their places and he fell into the rear position, taking up Charlie’s appointed handle. Mr. Calvin was carried to the coach without further ado. Surely, this was not something that he’d seen before? Maybe he HAD!
I overheard CJ ask about the missing man…Mr. B winked and whispered that he just could not bear to wake the poor old napping man — he had such a peaceful expression on his face. Such grace!