Friday, April 21, 2006

Hallelujah By And By

Grandmother's funeral was yesterday. It was nice. Nice as in, no family fighting. Or at least none in front of people, it would appear. The woman who sang at the service did the... uh, how should I put this? Above and beyond the most uninspired version of "I'll Fly Away" I've ever heard in my entire life. And no, that's still not accurate I'm afraid. I mean I have heard bluegrass versions of this old gospel standard that sound like their fiddles are trying to outfly the hellfires of damnation. I've heard gospel choirs perform it with the kind of passion and energy that would put the James Brown church scene in The Blues Brothers woefully to shame. But this. Wow. Picture a soccer mom chirping flatly along to a cassette that sounded suspiciously like calliope music. But you know, my aunt really liked it, and it made her stop crying for a few minutes and happily sing along. And I tend to think that ultimately in the end this is what really matters the most.

Oh yes, and like my Uncle Biscoe's funeral a few years back, the memorial service was conducted by Chesapeake mayor emeritus Sid Oman, who at one point was also one of the rotating members of the Nairobi Trio. Still one of my favorite bands to this day.

And no, he didn't wear the monkey suit this time, I'm afraid.

It's funny, or actually maybe not so funny, how much of my childhood memory I've failed to retain over the years because when Joe asked me what my strongest memory of my grandmother was I was a little alarmed to discover that I couldn't remember anything really specific about my childhood with her. Despite her living next door to us when I was a small child. Despite many vacations and sleepovers with her. Despite how close we've always been.

I have vague recollections of Christmas at her townhouse in Kempsville as a little girl, because she always had the coolest Christmas tree with little electric trains looping around the trunk and those big fat colored lights from the 70's, the kind that could burn down your whole house from the dangerous levels of heat they gave off. They just don't seem to make that kind of oblivious kitsch anymore these days.

For some reason the most enduring memory I have of her took place on May 23rd, 1987 (I know because I looked it up) when I spent the night at her place and we were both lying in her bed watching Saturday Night Live when Dennis Hopper was hosting. I think that he was performing in a skit about a game show called "What's That Smell?" and he was breathing heavily into an oxygen mask and and freaking out during the entire scene. Now at this point neither my grandmother nor I had seen the movie Blue Velvet so we had no idea what Hopper was doing, or that he was even referencing the movie ("What the hell is he breathing in that thing?") so the entire skit was not only lost on us completely but became one of the strangest "WTF" moments the two of us ever shared together (the other being the time we both watched k.d. lang make her debut performance on Hee Haw and my gran was convinced that it was actor Sean Penn in a dress). Ironically the music guest on SNL that night was also Roy Orbison, whom my grandmother loved, and as the generation divide closed neatly between us we both got to enjoy his performances together, and it was pretty swell.

R.I.P. Grandma. Like my last words to you before you passed; I love you.


Blogger Anita said...

>> Picture a soccer mom chirping flatly along to a cassette that sounded suspiciously like calliope music.<<

The worst funeral singer I ever saw was when like MSNBC and all them (Fox News wasn't around back then I don't think) showed the funerals of the kids who died in Columbine shooting. There was this one singer there, I don't know what she was singing, but she was smiling the whole time while she was singing. Show some decorum. The kid died in a horrible school shooting.

2:39 PM  

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