I went to my Uncle Leon's funeral last weekend. Though I hadn't seen him in 10 years, I remember him fondly. He was the only uncle who would play with his nieces and nephews on Thanksgiving when the family gathered while all the other uncles were watching football or taking their after turkey and dressing nap. And, he has the distinction of being the only person I have ever known who actually owned a leisure suit. Abraham Lincoln tall and thin, he somehow managed to make that lime green suit look distinguished. A good guy overall. I will miss him.
I didn't know until I attended his funeral that he was a Mason. I have to admit, I know less about Masons than I know about Shriners. And everything I know about Shriners I learned from taking my kids to a Shriner Circus when they were little. They sometimes wear fezes when they drive mini-cars or ride horses in parades. And all their crazy antics, including the circus, raises money for their children's hospitals.
When we got to the church for Uncle Leon's funeral, we saw a group of men lined up behind the coffin, dressed in somber business suits (not a leisure suit among them) and wearing white muslin aprons. These aprons, a cousin explained to me, symbolized the origins of the Masons. Some time in the distant past, at least the Renaissance past, and maybe even the Medieval past, they were actual masons who did the stonework on many of the cathedrals that dot Europe.
At the grave site the Mason's gathered around the coffin. One stepped forward and recited a speech. The speech had a sartorial ring that made me think it could have been written by Thomas Jefferson and delivered by George Washington. I wish I could remember some of it, but by that time I was thinking about the covered dish dinner prepared by the little old ladies of the small church across the street from the cemetery.
At the end of the speech, he tied one of the muslin aprons by its straps to the coffin and they lowered it into the ground.
As we were walking across the street to the little church and the little-old-ladies-of-the-church covered dish dinner, my mother spoke up for the first time.
"When you bury me, I'd like you to tie my purse to the outside of the coffin."
"What?" my step dad asked, missing a step.
"The black one will do. The zebra print would probably be a little over the top."
By then my step dad was mercifully struck dumb. As was I.
There was some sense, or at least precedence to her request. After all, everyone from Pharaohs to Vikings to Qin Shi Huang, (Chinese emperor who had the terracotta army buried with him), have had their most prized possessions buried with them for use in the afterlife. But, mom is Baptist. Enough said. The Bible says you can't take it with you, and Baptists aren't inclined to cheat.
We walked on into the church, and I started looking for the deviled eggs. For some reason, the deviled eggs are always better at a little-old-ladies-of-the-church covered dish dinner.
"Do you want anything in the purse?" my step dad asked while we were all looking over the deserts. I couldn't decide between coconut pie and peach cobbler. (I got both.)
"No. It's symbolic," she replied. Which seemed to satisfy her.
He looked at me and raised an eyebrow. I raised one right back at him. I didn't know what it was symbolic for. And I wasn't going to ask. As far as I was concerned it was a mystery she would take to the grave.
She went on: "You could recite that card you gave me for my last birthday. You'll have to take out the part about the many years we are going to share together. But otherwise it would work."
"What if I go before you do?"
"Silly. You don't even own a purse."
That was something neither of us could argue with. I drove home wondering what I could tie onto the outside of my coffin that would be symbolic. I haven't come up with anything. But then, I'm not in any real hurry.
What do you want to be buried with? Comment at yourvalleyvoice.com.