Friday, October 31, 2008

Silk Purse

I went to a funeral yesterday. My wife's cousin died of a heart attack at age 35 while hunting in the Black Hills. He left behind a wife and two small children. Guys like him are hard for any community to lose, especially small farming communities like Onida, where the funeral was held and near which he farmed. People his age are the main source of civic energy, and Onida doesn't have much of that to spare. I noticed he was buried near a man who died at 25 not long ago; tough times there.

The funeral was held in the school gym; school let out early to accommodate it. The county courthouse also closed at noon; there wasn't much point in staying open since most of the town was going to the funeral. We rode up and back (roughly 60 miles total) in a transit bus provided gratis by the company owner, an old friend of the family; he drove it himself.

My wife's extended family is huge; it took about 10 minutes just to seat everyone. That and a slide show of the deceased man's life lengthened the ceremonies to over an hour. It had a hunting motif; the pallbearers wore orange vests, and he was buried in his hunting gear. There was a younger mix of people than usual, of course, giving a different atmosphere. My wife takes deaths hard, which in a way is to her credit. Losing a son to cancer and a husband to a heart attack in his 40s would harden some people.

After the ceremonies there was the standard luncheon and "fellowship gathering", as the pastor called it. Good sandwiches and various sugary baked goods. In this case it was an impromptu family/all-class reunion. Pretty much everyone there was connected to someone who grew up there, so there was a great deal of life updating among the locals and the Onida diaspora. Pictures were taken; contact information was updated; physical changes were noted. My wife's grandmother, who along with her siblings is the source of much of the family that attended, particularly enjoyed this.

At the other end of the tree, Grandbaby also had a fine time, developing her laugh, soaking in the attention babies get at such functions, and seeing for the first time (although she won't remember) people with whom she'll be crossing paths occasionally for the rest of her life. Welcome to the Family.

It's this last event that gives the occasion a positive aura; perking up a down day. Coincidentally I was rereading a Peter Egan column on last night, and he ended it with this:

"So we honor the dead, but we really cherish our survivors, reflecting on their good fortune to be here at all. And maybe ours too."

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