Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Middle Ages

Do you remember back when you were in your twenties and visiting your grandmother and the talk always turned to who just died, who was about to die or who was sick and might die? And do you remember wishing they would find some other topic of conversation?

A sure sign of middle-age must be when you find yourself attending funerals way more often than you ought to be. You do begin to view each serious illness that comes along in your circle of friends as a possibility that you may lose that friend. In our twenties we were immortal. In our fifties, not so much.

While you realize and accept (however unwillingly) that the older generation is bound to start disappearing on you as you hit your middle years, it is a severe shock when you lose someone your own age. A few months back a friend from Smiley had let me know that one of our classmates had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. I had not seen this classmate since we graduated in May 1972, so he remains frozen in my memory at a robust 18-years-old and full of vinegar. It was hard to imagine him nearing the end of his life.

Today I made the trip to Nixon to attend his funeral. He was the second loss to our close-knit class of 22. The first, a young man of fragile health, was lost in 1988 when he was only 34 years old. It was a shock, but not a completely unexpected one. Each time the class holds a reunion, we take a few minutes to remember Paul. While there have been tragic losses in the families of the class, we've been very fortunate to make it this long before losing another one of our own.

The Catholic church was filled almost to capacity with the family and friends who came to pay their respects. After the bulk of the attendees had left for the cemetery, two of my classmates and I stood outside the church and chatted. There were four of our class at the funeral mass and one of the men (I really wanted to say "boys" there) told me that the rosary the night before had been attended by several others of our class. We hugged and parted ways, hoping that the next time we see each other will be at a reunion and not at a funeral.

I naturally had to make the drive over to Smiley and wander about town a little, checking old landmarks, clucking over houses going to ruin from neglect, taking a picture here and there, and then stopping at the old grocery for a soda and packet of nuts for a snack.

Inside the old grocery, it's a shell of what it once was, which wasn't all that much to be honest. But the building gives off that familiar smell and the old meat display counter is still in the same place. The cashier remarked on how dressed up I was and when I mentioned I had just been to a funeral, she nodded and said "Frank?". "Yes, he was my classmate. He was a good guy." She mentioned who she was, the daughter of a lady I knew way back when.

When I left, I glanced at the outside wall and the outbuildings and thought to myself that some things never change. The painted parking dividers. The sign. Home.

I left Smiley and headed toward Gonzales where I planned to spend some time at the public library on a project that I'll speak more about at another time. On the way to Gonzales, I passed the Wrightsboro Cemetery where the burial was taking place. The crowd was still thick under the green canopy and cars parked all up and down the highway. I thought to myself that I'll come back and visit his grave on my next trip home.

Rest in peace, Frank. You were a good guy.


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