A Funeral With A Flourish

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December 26, 2011 by David Gillaspie

There are phone calls you look forward to, and those you don’t.

Nick Steele got one. It was from his dad.

“You got a minute?” Mr. Steele asked.

Nick’s dad asked the question, but it wasn’t really a question.

“Hi, Dad.”

“It’s this egg thing, son.”

“What?” Nick asked.

“I dropped an egg and it broke.”

Nick listened for more, but that was it.

“You there, Nick?” his dad asked.

“Right here. You broke an egg?”

“Dropped it and it broke. That’s right. Does that sound right?”

The old man dropped an egg and it broke, so he calls with the news?

“How are you feeling, Dad? Have you taken your shot yet?”

Of all the ways to live with diabetes, the needle is the last way, but Jim Steele skipped the diet and exercise talk.

“Yep, but maybe not enough, huh? You think that’s why the egg broke?”

“I think that’s why you’re dropping it.”

Nick’s dad lasted a few more months after his second wife came home to find her husband standing in their kitchen with a dozen broken eggs around him.

The doctors said he had a stroke, then a series of mini-stokes, that took him down. Nick had been on the phone with him during the first one.  

Jim Steele moved to a far corner of the state when he remarried. His new wife wanted to be closer to her daughter is how he explained it.

“She’s married to a part Indian man who lives near his mother, so she wants us closer,” he said.

No one in the rest of his family said, “what about us?”

Their marriage lasted long enough to alienate his family so when he died the new wife made all the arrangements. She also handled the part about the last will and testament so everything he had went to her, at least everything she wanted.

Jim Steele’s most treasured possession was his horse and saddle. He said it made him feel young again when he rode in his new town’s parades, that the horse reminded him of the horse he had before he enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Granpa Steele sold his son’s belongings after he shipped out. The news from Korea wasn’t good, and it was worse for Marines. He knew his son wasn’t coming back home so he did the practical thing.

Sgt. Jim Steele proved tougher than a platoon of ChiCom soldiers in a suicide charge when he left a battlefield littered with their bodies after he was shot three times. In a scene out of Forrest Gump, Sgt. Steele rallied his troops after their lieutenant went down, then rallied them again in spite of his own wounds.

His first wife knew the details after spending a year waking up every night while he fought the enemy in his nightmares. His second wife had never married a war hero in four earlier trips to the altar and enjoyed what she considered the novelty.

She planned his funeral with all the military trimmings, including three volleys from aging veterans in shaggy hair. After the ceremonies all that was left to do was drive to the Leatherneck Club for beers while the graveyard crew moved dirt.

Except, on the walk by with a handful of dirt to drop in the grave before leaving, one of Sgt. Steele’s sons went through the dirt line over and over. On his last pass, he took a shovel and started in. Others found shovels and did the same.

The crew came over to dismiss the shovelers, but they wouldn’t stop. Another son told the crew they’d like to finish burying their father on their own, but they’d like to do it right. The crew gave instructions then stood with their back-hoe in case the dirt-flinging group tired.

Eight young, and not so young, men took off their shirts and ties and rotated shovels after lowering the casket and cement slab into the grave. Then they tamped it down.

One of the men, the part native husband from the second wife’s side, spoke to the group during shoveling.

“I’m half Indian,” he said. ‘My best half. When my mother died, the full bloods in the family said they couldn’t allow me to help with the burial, but I could dig the grave. I spent one night digging my mother’s grave and watched the next day while they all filled it back up. Worst day of my life. I am happy to say thank you for helping me with that memory today.”

Through the sweat and dirt, then beer and food later, his words settled in. 

Semper Fidelis had a new home.


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