Some readers may know that my mother recently passed, so family and friends gathered in her hometown of Charleston, SC, to lay her to rest.
The burial was in the Carolina Memorial Gardens in North Charleston, fittingly enough directly across from a school. Hot and humid, as befits this part of the country in July. My youngest sister along with my uncle and a family friend organized the proceedings, and thankfully waived the suit rule. All my suits are winter weight. Not that it would have mattered so much. It’s a momentary discomfort to pay homage. Still, thankful for the dispensation.
There were perhaps twenty people graveside, including a couple of funeral home mourners to fill things out. Except for a couple of sisters and my youngest sister’s family, I hadn’t laid eyes on some folks for upwards of 45 years; and some not at all. A couple of the mourners were my Mom’s next-door neighbors for whom she’d tutored their daughter and written letters of recommendation for an Ivy-League school and med school. That’s some real commitment. For something I thought might be a few people around a hole in the ground, it was a satisfying turnout.
The service was not overly long: a few prayers and brief sermon from the preacher. Not a sermon in the sense of admonishment, but rather a reading and exposition of verses my Mom liked. I told the preacher afterwards that I was thankful a Southern gentleman had brought her home. My youngest sister told me later she appreciated the sentiment and that Mom would have approved. My Mom always did like propriety, so perhaps she would have.
After the service, I saw a couple of guys in work clothes hanging about away from the grave. I asked if they were the ones who did the actual burial, and when they answered in the affirmative, I told them that that was my Mom, I appreciated their help, and shook their hands. And I really do. Burial these days is a team effort.
A family friend had arranged for a limo bus to take us into downtown Charleston for dinner. They’d also managed to find a restaurant that could accommodate our party with two days notice on a weekend during high season in a tourist-heavy town. That’s no small feat: Leah, your kung-fu is awesome.
Dinner was at Eli’s Table. It’s not cheap. But then, this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime events. My youngest sister and her husband picked up the tab, and because I wasn’t paying for it, I was a bit cautious in ordering. Everything we did order was outstanding. There was good presentation and an amazing depth of flavor in every dish. The Key lime pie is simply superb. My Mom apparently attracted good people, because conversation was stimulating. A good meal with good people is one of the pleasures of life and despite the circumstances, a pleasant time was had.
The plan during dinner was to share memories of Mom, but the circumstances weren’t conducive, so we stopped at a grocery store for adult refreshments, then went to one of my Mom’s favorite Charleston spots: The Battery. The Battery is a walkway along the harbor including the eponymous gun battery. We gathered in the back of the bus and opened Champagne and took turns telling stories and sharing anecdotes relating to my mother. As wakes go, it was good, and I learned a lot about my mother that would have perhaps better served me in life, if I’d only paid attention.
So the funeral and memorial services are over, and with them the reason for the trip. There are a lot of unresolved family dynamics. We’re having lunch Sunday before everyone takes off to their lives. My uncle and sister both noted that there haven’t been this many family members in one room for nigh on 30 years. We’ve been a fractured family for decades, and that’s not going to change overnight, but perhaps change can begin with this weekend.