Pa would have enjoyed his funeral, reflected Meg. He would have loved the John Deere lining in the casket and the tiny replica tractors in the family spray, tributes to a successful life from scratch.
She took in his button up shirt and jeans from where she sat. He wouldn’t have wanted a suit either, she thought, so overall he would have put his stamp of approval on the whole affair. He would have also heartily approved the fact that the entire service from start to finish had been less than half an hour. He always did disapprove of preaching the deceased into Heaven.
She watched the mourners give regards to Granny and then file out the side door to grab one more sweet tea before driving to the cemetery in August. All the ladies were wobbling on heels as high and thin as toothpicks since there was no danger of mud in the graveyard. Sighs that had more to do with heat than grief kept emanating from the open kitchen door, and someone was loudly bemoaning how there was no more lemonade in the refrigerator. The wiry funeral director rushed to shut the door and returned with cardboard paddle fans advertising the drugstore down the street.
“You ready, John?” Meg nudged her husband into line for one last visit at the casket.
Pa and Granny were actually his grandparents although she felt as bereft as he over the loss of Pa. Thanksgivings would be hollow affairs without the quiet blue eyed man to carve the suckling pig and make sure everyone got a big enough piece of Granny’s chess pie. Meg wondered if, at thirty, John would be considered old enough to carve the pig now.
Meg idly watched Granny greeting mourners from her little birch stool at the head of the casket as they crept forward in line. She occasionally paused in her greetings to sip water from an old styrofoam cup the funeral director had put on the stand behind the potted fern for her. John’s parents, Crawford and Gabrielle, were waiting in the lobby for them already so that they could carpool to the cemetery.
Granny hugged Cynthia, one of the new cousins to marry into the family. Cynthia might have baby pink streaks in her hair and tattooed stockings of marine life on her legs beneath her frilly almond sundress but Granny seemed to love her. She always caressed Cynthia’s cheek in greeting and patted her French twist. She pulled her in for a moist kiss on the cheek, an oddly endearing juxtaposition of old moneyed South embracing the newer idiosyncratic South.
It was their turn. John approached the casket with burning eyes and a firm grip on her elbow as he surveyed the man he had spent half his childhood with. Meg turned to Granny.
“I’m sorry, Granny. We’re only thirty minutes away if you need something—
Granny grasped her free left hand in the fierce clawed grip of the elderly.
“When Crawford brought back Gabby from the Philippines, he asked what we thought of some green eyed Asian children running around the farm one day,” Granny said in a low aside. “We told him that we would be happy if he would only be happy. He wanted her to be his wife and so we accepted it. John wanted you and so we accept you.”
Granny dropped her hand and gave her a tight little smile.
Meg fingered her pearl strand nervously. She’d been part of the family for five years and with John for nine years. What did Granny mean by saying that to her? That when all was said and done she was only tolerated. The room teetered a little, and Meg felt her heart begin to pound. She looked sideways at John but he was biting his lower lip as he gazed as Pa for the final time.
John drew his handkerchief across his eyes.
Granny pulled him in for a hug.
“My precious grandson, you’ll come see me often, won’t you? I’ll be so lonely without your Pa. Fifty-five years together and now I’m alone. You remind me so much of Pa. Do come by. I always keep a chess pie on purpose for you in the pantry.”
Meg let John lead her out into the dry August heat. She wondered how the Junior League would take her getting a couple of tattoos.