Well, today I attended a funeral. It was the most interesting funeral I have ever been to. It was at a relatively new and still somewhat rough place just inside the Selma city limits on Lookout Road. It is supposed to cater to ex-military and ex-police. I was told such people get a "discount" or whatever the funeral industry calls it in their carefully couched terms.
Anyway, the funeral was for a very old friend of the family. His first wife was my mother's first cousin, but...well I don't really know if I can explain it. It seemed to be above blood relation. They were close as friends as well. His wife was several years older than my mother, and my mom as a teenager baby-sat her kids. He became close friends and an occasional business partner with my dad. His first wife died of leukemia when I was about 4 or 5 years old, but like I mentioned she had had kids, a boy and a girl. He re-married a year or two later, and his second wife had two daughters from a previous marriage, but they never had kids with each other. None of this is especially relevant to the story, except to say that he knew me from the time I was born, and he was always part of my life. Even though he was not technically related to us, having been an sort of cousin-in-law from his first wife, he still attended family reunions and always came to my dad's house for our yearly Christmas mini-reunion. I think it says something that most of the people there were from my dad's side of the family, although none of them were related to him.
One weird thing that I realized today was that I think this was the first time I'd ever seen his second wife, although they'd been married for decades. She just never came out to the country. Although his official residence was in S.A., he had a ranch near here and spent most of his time out here watching after his cattle and, I think, just not being in the city. When I was a teenager I spent a lot of summers working for him, helping him work cattle, clearing brush, building and fixing fences and doing all the stuff that a cattle ranch requires. And by "ranch," I'm not using it in the city-dweller term when they seem to think anything more than 5 acres is a ranch. He used to own 500 acres, but about 300 of it was fairly dense forest, and he eventually sold the back 300 to some insanely rich guy who built his own exotic game ranch out of it. Back when our friend owned it, we hunted there all the time. I spent a lot of time just roaming around in the pasture all by myself, sometimes hunting or trapping, and sometimes just being out in the "wilderness" because I enjoyed it so much. I find myself wondering now what's going to happen to his remaining 200 acres. I suppose his wife will sell it. I wish I had the money to buy it.
I remember the first summer I ever worked for him, I guess I was about 13. I had an old Boy Scout pocket knife that my dad had found on the side of the road--he worked for the highway department and was always finding useful things lost on the side of the road--anyway, the first thing our friend did was ask me if I had a pocket knife. I told him yes, and showed it to him because I was kind of proud of it, since it had a bottle opener and can opener and so forth, but he gave me another pocket knife anyway. I still have it.
He had been in the army, and he had been a police officer in S.A. for more than 20 years. He had been a pilot. He was a skilled leather worker. He was a skilled ammunition reloader. He had once been an extra in a movie. He had done so many things. He loved to talk. During my time "working" with him, he told me so many stories about so many things. We both liked to talk about guns and hunting. He built a makeshift shooting range on his place and he loved it when I came out just to shoot. He would always break out one of his guns and join me. Whenever I brought a gun he hadn't shot before, he would always shoot it and then give me his opinons on it, which would almost always remind him of something that had happened once and he'd tell me another story about it.
When I was a teenager, during our conversations he found out that I loved to read. He did, too. He gave me his entire collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks. Just about every original Tarzan story is in there. Only one Mars book, but I think also all of the Pellucidar books and all the Lost Island books. I still have them.
He liked to boast about being from Mt. Airy, North Carolina, and he was always sure to mention that that was also Andy Griffith's home town, and the town that Mayberry was based on. He grew up on a tobacco farm, and told me stories about tobacco farming.
He told me some scary stories about things he'd seen and done while a cop. He told me a few hairy stories from when he was a pilot. He gave me endless advice and information about guns. A few years ago, he gave me two of his old reloading scales in case I ever wanted to take up reloading. Of course, I still have them, too.
The funeral began with flag ceremony and the playing of Taps. It was the first time I'd ever witnessed that ceremony. His grand-daughter, who has Down Syndrome, played "Amazing Grace" on her accordion. He had also been a Mason, so there were some Masons there who had their own special part in the service. And that was the first time I'd ever seen the public Masonic ritual for a funeral. I'm sure that later on, they'll have their own private service for their departed brother.
I can say with complete confidence that I would not be the same person if I hadn't known him.