I’m in Humboldt, Tennessee, drinking some terrible one-step-up-from-instant coffee in what is otherwise a decent hotel room. It’s quarter to midnight, and unfortunately I have a lot of work to do. Hence putting up with bad coffee, and writing this blog entry instead of the article I need to finish.
I’m here to attend the funeral of my wife’s grandfather, Herb Allen, who passed away on Monday of natural causes just a few days short of his 90th birthday. The service tonight was a pay-your-respects visitation, and we were able to see several family members that we don’t usually run into because we all live in different corners of the country. Since I personally didn’t know Herb very well, I’m not as deeply affected by his passing as I was for my own grandparents, which in a strange way has been almost refreshing… it’s my position to console Kim (who has been holding up splendidly), but I also get to see this interesting end-of-life ritual from a new perspective.
Tonight I was struck by the almost equal balance of goodwill and solemnity at the church. Although the dozen-plus people in attendance when we arrived were there to mourn Herb’s passing, it was an opportunity for distant family members to hug, cry a little, get caught up, and share stories. Lots of unexpected stories: Olla, Herb’s wife, told me that the two met as a blind date when someone told one of Herb’s sisters to bring a date to an evening; that on the day they were married, Georgia had a five-day waiting period for marriage certificates, so they hopped over the border to Alabama (in a rowdy city where, as Olla put it, “they killed people and threw the bodies in the river”), found a Baptist minister, and tied the knot at about noon, because Herb had to be back at work by one o’clock. That was almost 70 years ago.
Tomorrow is the formal service, and I’m sure it won’t be as uplifting. But tonight I’m going to sleep knowing that I’m with good people who care about each other. Even if you know nothing about Herb Allen, you have to admit that gathering these people together with this spirit is a nice way to pass on. Thank you, Herb.