My Uncle Claude died on September 2, 2008. "Aunt Eula and Uncle Claude's" was a destination commonly stated at home growing up. The names were always uttered together. Aunt Eula, who passed away eight years ago, was a sweet, soft-voiced woman with an affinity for hats and clip-on earrings while Uncle Claude smelled of tobacco, cussed every other breath, and had a cackle of a laugh that defies duplication. They were an important part of childhood in my family.
Uncle Claude was 90 years old when he passed away following a massive stroke. Although he spent his final few months in a nursing home, my Uncle Claude managed to completely elude hospitals in his 90 years, many of which were spent smoking cigars and most of which included the chewing of tobacco. He valued friends and family, loved old stories and older jokes, and didn't expect a damn thing from anyone or anything. Uncle Claude informed the nurses of Miller's Merry Manor (No, seriously, that's the name - as if any nursing home can truly claim to be a source of merriment) that when it was his "time to go" they should not call in a minister but, rather, a bartender because he wanted to leave happy!
"I say, I SAY ... I said I told 'em not to call a minister but call the bartender 'cause I want to leave happy!" [insert indescribable cackle]
Uncle Claude's funeral was a week ago Saturday. I left early Friday to go to his viewing Friday night at the insistence of my sibling and we ran smack into my mother's side of the family in full force. My Mom is the youngest of seven siblings and one of the five remaining. I left the viewing with two observations: 1) I am a lofty lofty 5'3" despite the Mishler blood in my veins and 2) "We're enjoying the view" should never be uttered by an elderly uncle to his niece ... ever.
My sister and I had a mission when we arrived for the funeral the following morning - give my Uncle Claude one last round of Skoal pouches for his journey. My uncle was being buried as he would have wanted in his classic bib overalls and he typically kept his round in his front breast pocket so ... well ... the covert operation went smoothly and Uncle Claude will keep his end of his deal with best buddy Virgil (Virgil is apparently supposed to bring the beer when his time comes).
Why am I a 'laugh at a funeral' type of girl? Perhaps because this was the funeral of a beloved relative who had enjoyed a long happy life with little sickness and a lot of sass. Perhaps because having to unbutton bib overall pockets for the purpose of stashing your uncle's "stash" there makes one feel irreverent. Most likely because the minister began to speak and a clear image of The Princess Bride popped into my and my sisters' heads. In particular, the priest, played by Peter Cook, from the "mawwage" scene of that "bwessed" film.
I dared not look down the row to any of my sisters during that funeral. We all sat together in the second row ... right at the front ... and I just don't know if our shaking shoulders would have been viewed as appropriate crying or not. Add in the minister's low, loud, stage-whispered "Aaaaamen" and we were all very nearly and completely 'laugh at a funeral' kind of girls. In a way, I kind of wish we would have let it loose ... somehow, from somewhere, I bet we would have heard an indescribable cackle added to the giggles.
And I have no doubt, none, that he's cackling heartily today with Eula at his side.