Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dead Calm

I went to a funeral the other day. It was for my Great Aunt Sophie. She was 86 and a real old cow. And before anyone jumps down my throat and tells me off for being disrespectful, I just want to say that she was born in 1925, which was the year of the Ox. Which makes Great Aunt Sophie a cow. A real old one.

Of course, no one liked her. She was nasty. She never had a nice thing to say about anyone or anything. Give her a bunch of flowers and she’d ask you if you thought she was dead. Cook her a meal and she’d wonder aloud why anyone bothered to cook when the food at Crystal Jade was so much better. Yes, she was that kind of nasty.

Both her husbands died within three years of marrying her. “Coincidence?” my mother said at the funeral of Husband No.2. “I don’t think so.”

When her only daughter Mabel married an Italian Australian professor of applied linguistics, Great Aunt Sophie promptly disinherited her for marrying outside her own kind. “She is such a Nazi!” my mother said incredulously at the time which my sister Michelle said was a bit rich especially given the silent treatment Mother was dishing out to Michelle on account of the fact that Michelle was dating Danny Hancock, the school’s basketball captain.

“It’s not because he’s not Chinese!” Mother said primly. “His father is a mechanic!”

“His father owns the Rolls-Royce dealership!” Michelle screamed during one memorable dinner. “Oh my God, you’re a racist and a middle-class snob!”

“Excuse me, but I am not middle-class! I am upper middle-class. There is a difference!”

“Yeah, well tell that to Great Aunt Sophie!” Michelle yelled. My baby brother Jack’s eyes were wide as saucers as he peered up over the dining table. “I can so see the family resemblance!”

They say time heals all wounds, but let me tell you, scabs were being peeled off at Great Aunt Sophie’s funeral and the fresh wounds they revealed were not pretty.

For starters, Mabel showed up in a bright red Versace mini dress with a plunging neck line with husband number three, a kindly American who, according to Mother’s loud whispers to us from the first aisle in church, was an ex-CIA official.

“How do you know these things?” Michelle hissed.

“Great Aunt Mary told me!” Mother replied calmly.

Jack turned to me. “Oh my God, that woman is still alive? Isn’t she older than her sister?”

Michelle who’d been observing Mabel as she chatted with the minister pursed her lips. “She is very inappropriately dressed for her own mother’s funeral, don’t you think?”

“For any funeral,” Jack said.

“She’s even wearing red lipstick! And she doesn’t seem the least bit sad.”

Mother turned around and whispered theatrically, “I’ll give you ten dollars if you see anyone shedding a tear at this funeral.”

Just then, Mabel’s two sons Matthew and Ben sidled up to us.

“We’re so sorry about your granny!” we all started saying.

“Save it, guys!” Ben said. “The woman was a bat and hated everyone and everyone hated her. I think so many people showed up today just to make sure she really is dead!”

And right on cue, we heard Mabel burst into peals of laughter. The entire congregation swivelled their heads in her direction and found her chatting on her handphone while she stood in front of her mother’s coffin. The minister studied his right foot very intently.

As I later said to Saffy and Amanda, it was as if she was having a drink at a bar and had to take a call.

“How awful,” Amanda said. “To be hated like that. By her own daughter and grand-children as well.”

“If anyone ever stands in front of my coffin and laughs, I’ll be back to haunt them!” Saffy decided.

“So how did it go?” Amanda asked after giving Saffy a look.

“The minister was so embarrassed, he raced through the whole thing. He read a bit from the Bible but never once said anything personal about Great Aunt Sophie. It was almost like we weren’t there for any particular person. It was very weird.”

And it got even weirder at the cemetery because just as the coffin was being lowered into the ground, Mabel – icy and aloof the entire afternoon – suddenly burst into tears and all but hurled herself to the ground, screaming “Mama! Mama!”

And all my mother could say was, “Darling, get up! You’re ruining your pretty dress! Jack, I am not giving you ten dollars!”

Saffy says she really wishes she’d been invited.

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