By: Christina J. Johns
The funeral wasn't even about Beth Ann.
If I hadn't been able to recognize her mama and daddy - still good looking in their sixties - sitting less than a foot away from the sleek gray coffin, I would have thought I was at the wrong ceremony.
The family had, for reasons I could not fathom then and still can not fathom today, asked a fifth cousin, half-removed, that nobody had ever set eyes on before to give the eulogy at the grave site.
He droned on and on for a tortuous half hour without even mentioning Beth Ann. I felt my soul flittering around the edges of ill temper and mean spiritedness.
Then, mercifully, half-removed, or half-wit as I was beginning to think of him, informed us that he was finishing up - with a short amusing anecdote.
I do not think amusing anecdotes (short or otherwise) have any place at funerals. Especially not funerals where the deceased has died of a stroke forty years before her time.
And, the anecdote was not amusing.
The half-wit told us with great delight that once while Beth Ann was in high school, he had been traveling through Lanier and arranged to meet her for lunch. Beth Ann had shown up in a dress!
That's right. That was it. He stared out at the assembled crowd with that Richard Nixon used-car-salesman smile, waiting....for what? A roar of laughter, a titter of appreciation, a smile of recognition? I have no idea.
I didn't understand the joke, and nobody else did. Half-wit stood there with that look dogs get when they're caught sucking eggs.
Finally, the preacher saved the half-wit from himself by gently taking his arm and pulling him backward. "Shall we pray?" The preacher said.
I folded my arms across my chest and while everybody else was praying, I stood wondering what in the world I was doing there on the hillside of the Confederate Magnolia cemetery, watching the body of a forty-year-old woman I had known since I was five be lowered into the ground.
I knew everybody there. Parents of children who grew up with Beth Ann and I, some decrepit former school teachers, preachers and their wives. But there was no one I could see who belonged to the second twenty years of Beth Ann's life - no husband, no children, no co-workers, not even a dog. And, there was no mention of that part of her life - as if it had been buried long before the body.
I felt more than a little bit insulted, partly because I could see my own funeral turning out just like this, if (God forbid) I should die suddenly between husbands.
I could just hear some idiot, reducing my entire life to some joke about wearing a dress.
Beth Ann and I were clearly something more than what we had been during the twenty years we occupied that tiny, sweltering, incestuous town.
If we'd had children and husbands, I guess it would have been different, we would have been eulogized as loving mothers (even if we hadn't been) faithful wives (which would have only been true if Beth Ann had had a major personality change since high school) and dutiful daughters (which I knew damn well didn't fit either one of us).
As it was we were single and without children - and therefore invisible as functioning adults. Nobody would be able to think of anything to say about us at our funerals except stories that were twenty or twenty-five years in the past and that said nothing about the struggles and triumphs, the tears and loneliness, the sleepless nights, the exhilarating days or she sheer stubbornness of the other twenty years.
They would understand nothing about the value of reckless gambles, lost causes, hard-won battles, or desperate loss.
And it's funny, the most vivid memory of Beth Ann I have is her, beet red with frustration and rage, stomping her foot.