A Pallbearer for Aunt Madge
She lies in an open casket, wearing a goofy wig that looks like it was made out of steel wool. I'm with the other nephews in a pew across the aisle. We're all adults now, wearing ties but no coats because it's hotter than blazes and the sunlight is blinding in the graveyard beyond the chapel's open side door. The preacher drones on and on about Southern Baptist salvation. Then folks line up to file past her casket and pay their last respects.
I sit with my elbows on my thighs, thinking of pictures I've seen of Madge when she was young and pretty, before she and a carload of her wild friends drove into an underpass support on the way home from a honkytonk. That busted her up pretty good and left her nose permanently flattened. She still liked to have her picture taken, though. There's one of her outside a bus station, smiling between two soldiers in khakis. And another of her standing in someone's front yard in her underwear, waving at cars passing by on the highway.
Nothing seemed to slow her down much. She wore out the patience of five husbands and buried the sixth. Finally, trapped in a bed at her daughter's house, she drank and smoked until the end. On my last visit, she said, "I loved whiskey, and I loved cigarettes, and I loved men--in just about that order." She raised her wasted arms as I was leaving. "Give me some sugar, Hon."
The line moves slowly past the casket. I want them to hurry so I can do something besides sit here trying not to weep. I don't look at the cousin sitting next to me. He's almost the spitting image of his daddy, my favorite uncle, who's been dead for almost a decade. I missed that funeral. I almost wish I could have missed this one, too. I keep my head down and focus on the shoes of people shuffling by. When this is over, I'm going to take my cousins out and drink a toast to this family I love. And to those of us who are left.
Barry Basden lives in the Texas hill country with his wife and two yellow Labs. He is coauthor of CRACK! AND THUMP: WITH A COMBAT INFANTRY OFFICER IN WORLD WAR II and edits Camroc Press Review at www.camrocpressreview.com