Normally, I don’t spend much time thinking about my own funeral. But a few years ago, I attended the perfect funeral. I decided that I want one just like it. Because people told stories!
And of course, this funeral was held at a bar. Which made it more of a party.
Not just any bar, though. It was held in a slightly down-in-the-mouth watering hole, pool hall and barbeque pit. But its name was what truly made it memorable:
Still, it wasn’t perfect. Because on that very day, I missed a golden opportunity. A chance to shine. A chance to tell a story. A chance to be remembered by a room full of people who would smile at just the thought of the, ummm, guest of honor, and of my story.
Truthfully, I don’t know what happened. It’s been decades since I had stage fright. If I’d made a fool of myself the only people who would know it were strangers and family members. My family has seen me fall/fail before; they love me anyway. They have no choice.
It was Jeff’s funeral, my late sister Judy’s first husband. Father to my wonderful niece and nephew.
In addition to my niece and nephew and their spouses and kids, of course, Jeff’s wife was there, along with Jeff’s two sons by his second marriage. I’d gotten to know and like them at various family gatherings throughout the years. Judy’s second husband was also there, along with his mother and sister. Family gatherings in my family tend to be complicated. They often involve more non-blood relations than blood relations. Which is really pretty neat, if you ask me.
So Jeff’s funeral was well attended. And since the bar was still open, in addition to family and friends, a few patrons stumbled in, surprised to find themselves at a funeral. But the beer flowed, and nobody seemed to mind. Or notice.
At one point, Jeff’s wife suggested that anyone with a story to tell about Jeff should speak up, and tell their Jeff story.
Now, it’s important to note that Jeff and I weren’t close. Jeff and Judy had divorced nearly 40 years previously, and I had only seen him at big family events. I was mostly at the funeral to support my niece and nephew, and to spiritually thank Jeff and my lucky stars that the two of them have been in my life.
Still, I did have the perfect Jeff story.
Only I didn’t tell it.
There was a room full of people, waiting to hear good stories. Some who knew me, some who didn’t. The perfect captive audience.
Only I choked.
I listened to other people talk about Jeff, how they’d met, how they’d interacted. What a good guy he had been. They were all perfectly acceptable stories. Nice even. But nothing memorable.
I knew that my story was better. I would have been the star of the funeral. Well, one of the stars, anyway.
Of course, that’s why I didn’t tell it. Right? I didn’t want to show anybody up. Right? I didn’t want to take the spotlight off the guest of honor. Right?
Today is the anniversary of Jeff’s passing. It’s time to correct my mistake. Right my wrong.
Time to tell my Jeff story.
* * *
Wednesday afternoon study hall in ninth grade, held in the cafeteria, had assigned seats. I sat at the table with three popular girls. I didn’t qualify as a fourth popular girl. They tolerated my presence. More or less.
In the middle of the hour, Leah, the most popular and giggliest of the three, got a pass and went to the girls room. She came back flustered, smiling. Practically swooning. She whispered to Karen, who immediately needed to go to the bathroom.
Karen came back just as excited. Miss Williams, the study hall monitor and nasty old math teacher had to shush her and Leah up.
And then, of course, since there were three of them, Debbie had to take her turn going to the girls room.
Now I’ll admit, I was curious as to what was going on. What was so exciting in the girls room?
I didn’t rate highly enough with them that they’d include me, tell me what was going on. I sat there at the table while they exchanged notes, feeling left out. Unpopular. Friendless.
Study Hall ended, and the four of us at the table were held back for a moment by Miss Williams to be reprimanded for making so much noise. But realizing that I hadn’t been included in the mayhem, I was let out ahead of Leah, Karen and Debbie.
I walked down out the door and was surprised to see my new brother-in-law, Jeff, standing in the hall, pushing a broom. Jeff was young, handsome, and newly married. In those days, and for the first few years of his marriage to my sister Judy, he took whatever job was available. So Jeff had started working as a janitor at my junior high that very day.
And just as Leah, Karen and Debbie walked into the hall, Jeff put his arm around me, gave me an affectionate kiss on the cheek and flashed his amazing smile at me.
The three girls stopped and stood with their mouths agape, looking between me and Adonis.
You see, Jeff was drop-dead gorgeous.
This is why the girls were all flustered. Jeff was a ringer for actor Jan-Michael Vincent. The resemblance is uncanny, actually. Both seriously good looking men.
“Are these your friends, Lease,” Jeff asked, smiling at me and at them.
“This is Leah, Karen and Debbie,” I responded, not explaining that I wasn’t cool enough to be considered their friend.
“Nice to meet you,” Jeff said, smiling briefly at the girls, and then flashing me another big grin before giving me another peck on the cheek.
“Lease, you’d better get to class before we both get in trouble.”
The four of us walked on down the hall. But instead of walking ahead of me as they would normally do, the three girls included me in their conversation. They wanted to know all about the gorgeous guy who had just kissed me — twice — right there in the hall.
But I just let them wonder. The four of us walked into Miss Williams’ math class, and I sat down with my friends. My real friends, who liked me even before they met Jeff.
Sadly, Jeff didn’t last too long as a janitor at my Junior High. All the girls spent way too much time in the hall, staring at Jeff. Jeff was always polite and gentlemanly, worked hard, and always had a peck on the cheek for me, especially when the popular girls were looking.
On this anniversary, I raise my glass to my handsome brother-in-law.
Rest in Peace, Jeff.
And thanks for that one time in school when I was considered cool.