By: Christina J. Johns

When I first saw the bald, waxy, old man in the coffin, I bolted like a racehorse refusing the gate, - but when I met my husband's eyes, I knew - it had to be Boots.

Throat, liver, lung, and finally brain cancer had taken its toll. The doctors told the family that it was way too late for chemo, but you know how families are. They couldn't just give up. 'Course, they'd probably be shooting each other in two weeks over whether or not Boots would have lived four minutes longer without the chemo.

I guess the psycho-babble books would say the family had "enabled" Boots to be a poly drug abuser. But, maybe the family just did the best they could to keep him alive for 45 years, while he did what he was going to do anyway. Who's to say? And who's to judge? Certainly not me.

George McGovern got talked into one of those programs where he refused to "enable" his daughter to be an alcoholic. So, she died in an alley, - drunk, frozen, and - alone.

Funerals aren't held in churches anymore - the dead are not even allowed that dignity. Funerals are held in funeral "homes" with their own chapels and "Parlors" -Each parlor comes with the standard issue of one corpse - one coffin and one group of grieving family members.

I felt like the sickly sweet smell of embalming fluid - a chemical mix similar to what they use on Maraschino cherries - was oozing into my skin.

My husband Gayle was a pallbearer, or what Boot's brother Little Neal kept referring to as a "Pallbaron" - and so he left me in Parlor A, where Boot's daughter was the center of the show. Boy, was she a piece of work.

She had purple hair and was wearing a skirt so short it would have given my grandmother a heart attack. She arrived, at least, carrying a tiny red plastic handbag which a dozen men wound up holding for her during and after the funeral. Six-foot, / two- hundred pound men/ standing at a funeral holding this absurd little red plastic purse.

This girl, Boot's daughter, used to steal shamelessly from Boots. She once stole a television out of Boot's trailer while he was passed out AND she had to step over him to do it.

But there she was at the funeral, grief-stricken and staggered around. Teri, Boot's sister, was slipping her white pills, which she downed in a manner so practiced she didn't even need water.

After a few of these she did one of those climbing into the coffin routines for which she was very inappropriately attired. She leaned so far into the casket, I could see her underpants and I assure you it was not a pretty sight.

She then howled: "I don't want my daddy put ina ground. Don't put him ina ground." I tried mightily not to roll my eyes.

Unfortunately, just as things were really starting to take off, Boot's other brother, Dale showed up to escort me from the Parlor and into the chapel. I went. After all, I could hardly tell him I was having much too much fun to leave.

Sitting in the back of the funeral home chapel, I scanned the crowd and decided that: You should know you're a red neck if you wear blue jeans to a funeral.

But then, the family was not much better. Little Neal had on a tan suit with bell-bottomed pants and scuffed, tan cowboy boots. He was also wearing a mean, sweaty look I had seen before and which telegraphed drugs, trouble, and the potential for sudden, possibly lethal, violence. I knew who I wasn't going to sit next to at the reception.

Terri, Boot's sister, looked worse than the corpse. She had always had this sickly pallid white skin and dyed her hair jet black, which made her look like a witch. And, she had one of those Southern accents that puts your teeth on edge. "Correll, you bedder, find you a place to be an stop runnin' around." It was the sort of accent that made cats turn their ears backward

The minister used words like onliest, and mentioned Boot's "mistakes" a little too often for my taste. He also tried to win souls over Boot's dead body. My husband and I had the same reaction to that. We thought it was just about like setting up a concession stand outside the funeral home.

But, it was a nice funeral, if a funeral can ever be considered nice. Boots was put - to what I dearly hope - is rest to the sounds of "Go Rest High on the Mountain" "Let the Circle Go Unbroken", and the song embedded deep in the soul of every Southern Baptist - Amazing Grace.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound...

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now am found

Was blind but now I see

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