Short Story: Miss Pettigrew’s Funeral

November 20, 2017      T.R. Pearson
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white roseMiss Myra Angelique Pettigrew was the closest the little town of Neely had to aristocracy. Beautiful and mysterious, she passed through life unmarried and grew more mysterious by the day. At the age of about 80 she climbed the water tower with her pet chimpanzee and casually jumped off.

Momma wore the same black dress she had seen Grandmomma Yount off in and the same little round hat with feathers and a half-veil and she carried with her a big shiny black pocketbook with gold clasps that had nothing in it but one of Daddy’s handkerchiefs. Daddy wore his lightweight navy suit and his reversible vest blue side out and Momma selected for him a striped burgundy tie that she said highlighted and enhanced the natural flush in Daddy’s cheeks and accordingly Daddy selected for himself a pair of burgundy socks as a fitting complement but Momma put them back into the drawer for him and brought out some navy ones instead. I wore my green suit, which was at the time my only suit, and my shortsleeve white shirt with the inkstain in the bottom of the pocket and my green speckled necktie along with my green socks that were not exactly the same color as each other and my black oxford shoes which I did not put on until right when I had to since they tended to lay my toes all together in a kind of bouquet. So I stood on my heels in the living room while Daddy went to the kitchen and passed his hand over all the burners and Momma crouched in front of the vanity mirror and pinned Rhode Island to her dressfront. Then we were out the door and down the steps to the sidewalk and Mr. and Mrs. Phillip J. King [next door neighbors], who had been waiting for us on their front porch, put her dog Itty Bit into the house and joined up with us as we went by.

Momma made me go in front and her and Mrs. Phillip J. King walked abreast behind me followed by Daddy and Mr. Phillip J. King, who were not in the leastways frantic about getting to the chapel and so fell off the pace directly and I would have been pleased to fall off some myself but Momma and Mrs. Phillip J. King drove me on ahead of them and it was all I could do to keep from getting trampled on what with my toes bunched up together and causing me some extraordinary discomfort. I suppose we got to the Heavenly Rest a full two blocks ahead of Daddy and Mr. Phillip J. King, who left off talking about whatever they had been talking about once they came into earshot, and when Mr. Phillip J. King got close enough to see the look on Mrs. Phillip J. King’s face he fairly much sprinted to us and left Daddy to lag in on his own which was a source of great irritation to Momma who could not ever seem to convince Daddy that there was any virtue at all in arriving early to anything. And even after Daddy got up with us he insisted on smoking a cigarette which he could not at first find a match for, and once he’d gotten it lit up and had smoked it and stamped it out, Momma directed him towards the chapel doorway where he stopped to pass the time of day with Mr. Tadlock who had come outside to spit. Consequently we did not enter the chapel itself until right on time and we made our way up the center aisle to where Mr. and Mrs. Phillip J. King had saved us a little slip of pew that was just big enough so that the three of us could not all sit down flush at once. Of course I was the one that got semi-levitated and while I was situating myself so as to keep any additional parts from getting pinched into disfigurement, Mrs. Phillip J. King turned her head and looked past me at Daddy with her face all puckered and drawn up like he was a slab of rancid meat and then Mr. Phillip J. King looked at him too but a little more longingly.

By the time we arrived the chapel was already packed tight everywhere with people snug up against each other in the pews and in folding chairs along the aisles and standing two and three deep against the walls in amongst the flowers and the leafy wreaths.

the altar was full up with clergymen and laypreachers and various other Godly individuals

There was not much relief on the altar either which was itself full up with clergymen and laypreachers and various other Godly individuals who had all volunteered to take part in the service once word got around that there were no specifications of the deceased to keep them from it. In fact the commander [owner of the funeral parlor] had been caught in the middle of a vigorous and hotly contested debate primarily between the Reverend Mr. Holroyd of the First Presbyterian Church and the Reverend Mr. Richard Crockett Shelton of the Lawsonville Avenue Methodist Church, both of whom laid claim to the eulogy on account of their prior dealings with Miss Pettigrew, who the Reverend Mr. Holroyd recollected as a devout Presbyterian while the Reverend Mr. Richard Crockett Shelton insisted otherwise, and the matter was complicated somewhat by the introduction of the Reverend Mr. W. B. “Red” Hamilton of the Gospel Light Chapel who was a eulogist of county-wide renown and considered himself the man for the job since sendoffs were his particular specialty. So the commander weighed the candidates each one against the other two and he decided to divvy up the eulogy between the Reverend Mr. Holroyd and the Reverend Mr. Richard Crockett Shelton and as consolation he awarded the Reverend Mr. W.B. “Red” Hamilton three minutes of fairly much unrestricted praying which the Reverend Hamilton agreed to carry out in one tongue only and with a minimum of stomping and gesticulation. The Reverend Mr. Lynwood Wilkerson of the First Baptist Church was given the honor of reading the text, and Ames Gatewood, who ran the newsstand downtown but was notably pious nonetheless, was charged with telling the congregation when to stand up and when to sit down, and in addition the Mayor Mr. Simms and Sheriff Burton and Mr. Jeffrey Elwood Crawford Sr. of the town council were distributed across the altar for what seemed to be purposes of adornment only and the three of them filled in any vacancies that might have otherwise been left between clergymen. So the altar itself was loaded with about as much Godliness as it could bear up under and the congregation was spilling out of the pews and into the aisles and roundabout the walls. The only part of the chapel that could have been considered uncrowded, unthronged, and otherwise very nearly vacant was up between the congregation and the altar where Miss Pettigrew’s casket had come out from behind its shut double doors and lay on the commander’s collapsible chrome trundle with its brass fittings catching the light. All around it on every side were several feet worth of emptiness which was a rare commodity in the chapel just then what with the rest of us packed in on top of each other like lizards, so Miss Pettigrew’s scant yard and a half of isolation seemed to leave her utterly and supremely secluded.

Mrs. Cobb was probably nearly four feet tall from the bottoms of her feet to the tops of her shoulders and then was another two feet taller from the base of her neck up to where the heap of hair on her head reached its highest altitude

The service commenced when Mrs. Rollie Cobb, who was the pianist at the Seventh Day Adventist Church and who played entirely by ear and mostly in ragtime, stood up from her place on the front pew and approached the commander’s upright piano, which was situated just shy of the altar and somewhat to the left of it. Mrs. Cobb was probably nearly four feet tall from the bottoms of her feet to the tops of her shoulders and then was another two feet taller from the base of her neck up to where the heap of hair on her head reached its highest altitude. Understandably, then, she was not a woman of any appreciable velocity since balance was a matter of some consequence with her, so once Mrs. Cobb stood up to approach the piano she was in the process of approaching it for a measurable spell before she finally succeeded in setting herself down on the stool, and when she stabilized her head where it would sit properly upright she launched into a lively prefatory melody that gradually degenerated into “Onward Christian Soldiers” as Mrs. Cobb got her bearings on the tempo.

The choir was under the direction of Miss Fay Dull of the Methodist Church and was composed partly of Methodists and partly of Baptists with a smattering of Episcopalians and Presbyterians along with one Jewish tenor, and the plan was for the choir to enter through the main doorway and then separate with the sopranos proceeding up the middle aisle, the altos proceeding up the left one, and the baritones proceeding up the right one. But the aisles were unexpectedly filled up with chairs which were themselves filled up with mourners, so when the sopranos and the altos filed in through the main doorway they scuttled the original plan and improvised themselves across the back of the chapel which was not nearly spacious enough to allow for the baritones, who remained outside on the landing, where along with the rest of the choir they sang the processional without proceeding anywhere. And what with the piano up in front of us and the sopranos and altos all jumbled up back behind us and the baritones not even under the roof, it was not a very stirring rendition.

After Mrs. Cobb had hammered out an Amen, the Mayor Mr. Simms crossed over to the pulpit and grabbed onto the edges of it like a natural evangelist. He greeted us all, told us what a lovely turnout we were, and then reminded us just who it was that had died which seemed to be his primary function and after he had seen it through successfully he crossed back over to his chair and sat down in it. Almost immediately the Reverend Lynwood Wilkerson got up and went to the podium which he grabbed onto also and after he had announced to us the text for the day he planted his glasses onto the end of his nose and set in to reading. Daddy recollected it as Ephesians or Galatians or Phillipians or Thessalonians, he couldn’t decipher which, and I thought the reverend had said Corinthians, but Momma told us it was Revelations and it was indeed some highly potent material all about angels with trumpets and angels with sharp sickles and portents in the heavens and plagues and fires and bowls full up with the wrath of God along with some sort of blood-red creature that had near about as many heads as horns. And the more the reverend read the more he appeared to enjoy hearing himself do it, and the congregation as a whole was beginning to seem a little fearful that he might persevere on through to the end of this book and start in on another one when Reverend Wilkerson finally closed his Bible, took it up in his right hand, and shook it at us.

“Yes beloved,” he said, “ah call, ah CAWL for the endurance of the saints.”

And as the reverend was lifting his glasses from his nose and preparing to surrender the pulpit, Daddy leaned across me and said to Momma, ‘A regular ray of sunshine,” which Mr. Phillip J. King heard and snorted at but which did not seem to give much pleasure to Momma, who cut her eyes sideways and let it out that she was annoyed.

The sopranos and the altos simply jumped aboard at the first available chink in the tune and they all managed to draw together presently into what sounded very much like singing

We were treated to a minute or two of coughing, sneezing, noseblowing, and general uneasiness among the congregation once Reverend Wilkerson had returned to his chair, and following some elaborate arm waving between Mrs. Rollie Cobb at the front of the chapel and Miss Fay Dull at the back of it Mrs. Cobb got herself properly set and anchored at the piano and then assaulted the keyboard but with such a limited success that she had to break off and start in again and the second time around she got underway in fairly good form. However, Mrs. Cobb commenced to put a little pace on the melody directly and it became so frantic with embellishments and excesses that Miss Fay Dull had a difficult time cueing the sopranos and the altos, which was all she could cue since the baritones were still outside on the landing and could not quite see her from there. So the sopranos and the altos simply jumped aboard at the first available chink in the tune and the baritones waded in shortly thereafter and they all managed to draw together presently into what sounded very much like singing. This particular selection called for a solo and Miss Fay Dull had nominated herself, so once she choked off the competition to her satisfaction she made a fine entrance into the melody and brawled with it all the way to the refrain where the rest of the choir showed up to help her vanquish it entirely. Then they all sang together for a couple of bars before things got a little uptown in the middle and called for the baritones and sopranos to bark back and forth at each other while Miss Dull trilled away between and underneath them and Mrs. Rollie Cobb bludgeoned the whole business with some rather ponderous fingerwork. We were entertained in this fashion for what seemed an inconsiderately lengthy spell and by the time the melody began to shut down, the whole business had turned into a kind of slugfest for soprano, choir, and Seventh Day Adventist and we were all pretty much relieved to see the animosities brought to a close, especially Daddy whose ears had become as red as firecoals.

Daddy explained to me exactly what constituted a chortle which sounds very much like a self-inflicted tonsillectomy

Mr. Ames Gatewood rose from his chair once Mrs. Rollie Cobb had left off torturing the commander’s piano and he indicated to us that we should rise also, which of course we did, but even before all the coughing and sneezing and noseblowing had a legitimate opportunity to fade away, the Reverend W.B. “Red” Hamilton went into consultation with Mr. Gatewood and apparently convinced him that he had indicated somewhat prematurely and consequently had brought to their feet a congregation that had no call to be on them, so Mr. Gatewood overturned his previous indication and about the time we all got used to standing up we all sat down again amid a great flurry of additional coughing and sneezing and noseblowing. Trouble was Mr. Gatewood had overlooked the Reverend W.B. “Red” Hamilton’s three minutes worth of partially restricted prayer and had skipped directly past it to “The Old Rugged Cross” which we were scheduled to sing about thirty-eight verses of, but Reverend Red caught the slipup and after he had announced his intentions we all hunched up and bent over and prepared to get prayed at. However, once the Reverend Hamilton shut his eyes and raised his hands over his head and addressed himself in holy communication to Almighty Gawd and his son the savior Geezus Christuh, he did not say anything else for what appeared to be his full three minutes and so caused to mount up a very real threat of some general uneasiness along with prospect of more coughing and sneezing and noseblowing. But at length the Reverend Mr. Hamilton reminded Gawd just who it was that had died, which seemed to be his primary function, and then he set in to talking in a very colorful way about nothing much in particular and in a voice that was considerably more melodic than anything the choir had managed to come up with so far. The Reverend said life is like a beauty rose that blossoms in the spring, and while some buds perish in their infancy others will thrive and bloom and linger on into the summer. But even among these, the reverend said, even among the thrivers and the bloomers and the lingerers, a great number will be cut from the vine early on and will perish in nosegays at the height of their blush and a greater number still will become tainted and blighted with the rosemold and die leaving only a handful of blossoms to greet the autumn and be taken by the frost. And the idea of all this extensive carnage among the rose population seemed to sink the Reverend W.B. “Red” Hamilton into a temporary funk and he did not talk to us or Gawd or Geezus either until he had recovered himself somewhat and then he said, “However, they are all roses nonetheless. They are all the fruit of the same vine be they bud or blossom, be they beautious or blighted, and brethren, after that ultimate autumn, after that final freeze they will all burst into magnificent bloom in the Ming vase of eternity.” And that was when Daddy chortled, though I did not know it was chortling until later on at the supper table when Daddy explained to me exactly what constituted a chortle which sounds very much like a self-inflicted tonsillectomy and which is hardly the sort of thing Momma would approve of under any circumstances, especially under the circumstances that Daddy committed one and especially since Daddy’s full-fledged robust chortle inspired in Mr. Phillip J. King a kind of lame, wheezing variation, and the full chortle and the half chortle together served to get the attention of the Reverend W.B. “Red” Hamilton who did not seem to feel that the Ming vase of eternity was anything to chortle at. So Reverend Hamilton left off praying momentarily and appeared to engage himself in wishing a little hellfire on our pew, and then he said, “Yes brethren,” and repeated most everything he’d told us before about life being like a beauty rose and death being like a bowl full of water.

I guess the reverend prayed at us for the best part of a quarter hour and never once threatened to talk about Miss Pettigrew who was laying in among her brass fittings directly in front of him. Instead he kept on with his rose bushes and his Ming vase and once he made a rather halfhearted attempt to draw Gawd up as some sort of unduly sentimental gardener – “He who cherishes even the lowliest weed” – but Daddy still had a chortle rattling around inside of himself and I suppose the idea of Gawd in a straw sunhat and white gloves got away with him and the chortle slipped up into his throat and inflated the whole front of Daddy’s face swelling his cheeks so that he had to vent some of the pressure off through his mouth and made in the process an inadvertent lip fart that carried on up to the altar and seemed to cause the Reverend Hamilton to squeeze off the metaphor before it could draw any additional fire. After that the reverend skirted a few figurative excesses but by and large avoided venturing into them, and by the time he reached the final salute to Gawd the Father and Geezus Christuh his only begotten son, the Reverend W.B. “Red” Hamilton sounded almost like a regular Baptist.

Mrs. Phillip J. King overrode all of us, even Daddy, with her rhythmic screeching that had all of the pitch and tonality of a lawn rake on a slate blackboard

Of course it was the thirty-eight verses of “The Old Rugged Cross” after Reverend Hamilton’s twenty-minute three-minute prayer, and Momma made me look at the hymnal but Daddy and Mr. Phillip J. King simply stood with their hands clasped in front of them and sang the melody like they were chewing on slabs of tire rubber. Momma sang pleasantly herself and I vainly tried to find a key I could stick with while Mrs. Phillip J. King overrode all of us, even Daddy, with her rhythmic screeching that had all of the pitch and tonality of a lawn rake on a slate blackboard. And I don’t imagine we had gotten through even twenty-eight verses when most of the congregation became fagged out and winded and left off singing, and after another verse or two the choir got a little worn out itself and gave up the melody to Mrs. Rollie Cobb who persevered on through the refrain and then tacked on a hasty Amen and dropped her arms to her sides so the blood could circulate through her fingers once more. And by the time Mr. Ames Gatewood stood up to indicate to us that we should sit down, we already had our backsides about as flush against the pew seats as they could get and sneezing and coughing and noseblowing and general uneasiness was rampant throughout the sanctuary.

Town councilman Mr. Jeffrey Elwood Crawford Sr. took the pulpit once he considered that we had settled back into a proper funereal demeanor, and he removed a notecard from his inside jacket pocket and set it down in front of him where he glanced at it two or three times in a skittish sort of way and then studied the frontside, the backside, and the edges also with some acute interest. And when he was satisfied with his grasp of the situation, he returned the card to his inside jacket pocket and announced to us exactly who it was that had died, which was not the sort of news we were any longer receiving with much graciousness. But as it turned out Mr. Crawford’s purpose was twofold, and once he came to understand that we already knew exactly who it was that had died, he proceeded on to the introduction of the eulogists, who were sitting on opposite ends of the altar since they were both still suffering from what Daddy called the ranklement of the heated eulogy debate. Mr. Crawford started off with the Reverend Mr. Holroyd who was about twice as old as Reverend Shelton and who Mr. Crawford told us had aged with all the grace and dignity befitting his most esteemed position. A pillar of our community, Mr. Crawford called him, a picture of spiritual well-being, and then he swung around and with an open hand directed our attention to the reverend himself, who was sitting a little slumped over in a folding chair with his hair standing more or less straight up all over his head. The reverend jerked his nose at us and grunted; he was thoroughly creased, wrinkled, liver-spotted, was inestimably wealthy with chins, and appeared to have aged about as gracefully as a winesap apple. Daddy has always contended that if the preaching business ever went bust, the Reverend Holroyd could take up residence under a bridge and earn his living as a troll.

Daddy said the Reverend Shelton had a way of making food taste sleepy

After Mr. Crawford figured we’d soaked in enough of the Reverend Holroyd’s spiritual well-being for the moment, he turned his attention full upon the Reverend Mr. Richard Crockett Shelton who was sitting on the far side of the aisle a little sideways in his chair and with his arm thrown over the back of it. Somehow or another the Reverend Shelton had managed to recover from the 1962 Christmas Pageant fiasco, and once he put the shame and humiliation of it behind him he gradually regained his confidence and commenced to improve on his pulpit manner. According to Daddy, the Reverend Shelton had started out as a snoremonger extraordinaire but through several years of hard work and undying dedication had managed to cultivate a kind of flamboyant tediousness which the most of his congregation mistook for ecclesiastical charm, including Momma, who was ever having the reverend over for dinner so as to bring Daddy in contact with some genuine Godliness. But the Godliness never seemed to take with Daddy and he just said the Reverend Shelton had a way of making food taste sleepy. But Mr. Crawford did not touch upon that particular talent and instead told us that the Reverend Shelton was a local bastion of virtue and an unfaltering inspiration to his flock, which Daddy said was notecard talk for pillar of the community and picture of spiritual well-being. And when Mr. Crawford swung around and directed our attention to the reverend himself, Mr. Richard Crockett Shelton bowed towards us without getting up.

The Reverend Mr. Holroyd kicked off the double-barrel eulogy partly on account of his religious seniority and partly, Daddy said, on account of the ever present danger that the reverend might join Miss Pettigrew straightaway. He did not have a notecard or a Bible of his own and not a scrap of paper or a matchbook cover to refer to either, but after he took the pulpit and leered at us for a spell it did not appear that the reverend had anything to say which fairly much excused his empty-handedness. So we looked at him and he looked at us and then some of us looked at him and some of us looked at Miss Pettigrew’s casket while he looked at us and then he looked at Miss Pettigrew’s casket and so drew some more of us to look at it also and then he cleared his throat and we all looked at him except for Daddy who looked at Momma out of the side of his face. And still the reverend did not say anything but gazed all up in the rafters like he had payed a quarter and was taking the tour, and when he finally did open his mouth and speak to us he did not utter a word we had expected to hear. “I once danced with that woman,” he told us. “I do recall it very clearly. It was after Mr. Wallace Amory [Wallace Amory Pettigrew, Miss Pettigrew’s brother] got elected mayor and him and Miss Myra Angelique put on the ball themselves in their daddy’s house. There was a little ensemble playing in one corner of the front room and along the back wall there was a champagne fountain and a buffet with fruits and cheeses and finger sandwiches and a great big meaty smoked salmon that still had the head on it. Miss Pettigrew had decorated the walls and the ceiling with crepe, red crepe and yellow crepe and blue crepe, and banners made out of bedsheets and balloons and ribbons and sprigs off juniper bushes. But you remember,” the Reverend Mr. Holroyd told us and looked out over the congregation for the first time since he had begun to speak. “Most of you were there so you must remember. I mean it was all so glorious and splendid, and her, why she was simply beautiful. Beautiful. And in my profession I don’t get much occasion to dance with beautiful women, but I danced with her. I said to her, ‘Miss Pettigrew, would you consider going round the floor with a man of the cloth?’ and she told me, ‘How divine.’ She touched me right on the forearm and told me, ‘How divine,’ and then she put me down on her card. I was number eleven and came just after Mr. Emory Hobson. Isn’t that right, Emory?”

And directly Mr. Hobson himself, from somewhere up in the front of the chapel that I couldn’t see, answered the Reverend Mr. Holroyd in a very high, antique voice that creaked like shoeleather. “Yes sir,” he said, “That’s right.”

“You had hair then, Emory,” the reverend told him.

“Yes sir,” Mr. Hobson said, “and teeth too.”

“And you near about frazzled her out for me Emory,” the reverend told him.

“Yes sir,” Mr. Hobson said. “As best I could.”

“But as I recall, she was a woman of exceptional wind,” the reverend said, talking to all of us again, “and I do believe the ensemble had not hardly commenced to sawing away good when me and Miss Pettigrew shot past the buffet table and by the doorway and twirled on down the length of the far wall. Seems to me it was a waltz, a very famous waltz, and time was I could call the name of it but,” and the reverend squinted up into the recesses of the commander’s semi-vaulted ceiling “it don’t seem to come to me just now. I do, however, very clearly recollect the way Miss Pettigrew went round the ballroom. She had the lightest touch with her fingers and on her feet why she was air itself, even made me feel like I could dance a little. And I do remember how we spun on by Mr. Wallace Amory who was pressed in all around by a great gaggle of women, and I leaned over and said into Miss Pettigrew’s ear how I believed Mr. Wallace Amory was surely qualified enough to be the mayor and was probably pretty enough to be the mayor’s wife, and she just laid her head back and laughed ever so softly.” And the Reverend Mr. Holroyd laughed a little softly himself with the most of the congregation chuckling some behind him, and for a very brief moment thereafter it did appear to me that the reverend was in fact the picture of spiritual well-being, but then he peered out overtop of our heads and into the back reaches of the sanctuary and presently he was thoroughly creased and wrinkled and liver-spotted and chin-ridden all over again. “But that was quite a long time ago,” he told us, “and the mayor’s gone and now she’s gone too. Dead,” he said, “dead and gone.” And I guess we all supposed the Reverend Mr. Holroyd might be setting us up for a sermonette on suicide and damnation, at least that is what I expected to get and, by the grim look on Daddy’s face, that is what he expected to get also. But instead the Reverend Mr. Holroyd did a most extraordinary thing: he left the pulpit, went back to his chair, and sat down in it. Of course we all watched him do it, and of course we all persisted in watching him after he had done it, especially Sheriff Burton who had the seat next to the reverend’s and who turned his head sideways and studied Mr. Holroyd like he’d just washed in with the tide. And as for the Reverend Mr. Holroyd himself, he looked at Miss Pettigrew’s casket and then looked at the floor beside him and then he looked at Miss Pettigrew’s casket again and then at the floor beside him once more and then he crossed his arms over his chest and smiled at the carpet.

Life, Reverend Shelton had said, is like a butterfly and death is God’s insecticide that carries strong and meek alike off into everlasting light

Nobody much seemed to know what to do, not anybody in the congregation including the commander, and not the sheriff, and not the councilman Mr. Jeffrey Elwood Crawford Sr., and not Mr. Ames Gatewood of the Reading Rack, and not Mrs. Rollie Cobb or her hair either, and not Miss Fay Dull or any of her sopranos or altos or baritones or her Jewish tenor, and not the Reverend Lynwood Wilkerson of the Baptist church, and not the Reverend W.B. “Red” Hamilton of the Gospel Light Chapel, which left only the Methodist Preacher Mr. Richard Crockett Shelton who possessed a natural instinct for empty pulpits and so leapt directly up into this one. I don’t remember what he said at first and I don’t remember much of what he said eventually but I am reasonably certain somewhere or another he took the time to remind us just who it was that had died. I also recall that he had gone to the trouble to set down his half of the eulogy on a heap of folded yellow paper which he produced almost magically from the inside of his robe and then proceeded to read from although he pretended that he wasn’t. And I do believe the Reverend Shelton quoted extensively from the works of Mr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who apparently could keep a beat a little more truly than the reverend could. However, I do not recollect much of what Mr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had to say either, and only later on at the supper table when Momma was trying to convince me and Daddy that we had been interested in what we had been numbed by did Daddy remind me of one of the reverend’s more colorful and enlightening utterances. Life, he had said, is like a butterfly and death is God’s insecticide that carries strong and meek alike off into everlasting light. I think even Momma was a little embarrassed and she did not offer much of any objection when Daddy associated Reverend Shelton with the “Red” Hamilton school of eulogization and prayer.

And although there was in fact an interesting moment in the Reverend Shelton’s half of the double-barrel eulogy it cannot be accurately attributed to the Reverend Shelton himself who was simply carrying on through with his tediousness when the Reverend Holroyd uncrossed his arms, jacked himself straight up in his seat, and said, “The Tennessee Four Step, that’s what it was,” and then recrossed his arms and allowed gravity to draw him back into a slouch. After that I don’t believe Reverend Shelton was ever able to recover himself entirely and it seemed he became all lost and confused in his heap of yellow paper and not him or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow or even the two of them all at once and together could straighten things out. So the Reverend Shelton left off his eulogizing a little prematurely and where he had planned to conclude with a smattering of Tennyson, who Daddy said was a lot like Longfellow only taller, instead he blessed and amened Miss Pettigrew and her brass fittings and then abandoned the pulpit.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Rollie Cobb was still waiting for the Tennyson several minutes after Reverend Shelton had already sat down and only when the commander had cleared his throat raw did she commence to hammering out on the piano what initially sounded like the “Maple Leaf Rag” but turned into “How Great Thou Art” once Mrs. Cobb got the reins on it. The choir sang this one by themselves and it was intended as their recessional, but since they had not proceeded extensively they did not have much territory to recede across and so were already entirely outside with near about three full verses to go, and as it did not seem that Mrs. Cobb was disposed to leave off playing, Miss Fay Dull turned around her sopranos and her altos and her baritones and her Jewish tenor and they polished off the selection from down along the street. And that was to have been pretty much the end of it except for the rolling out of the casket; however, once Mr. Ames Gatewood had indicated us upright and once Mr. Dunn from Spray and the commander himself had commenced to roll Miss Pettigrew down the center aisle towards the chapel doors, the Reverend Mr. W.B. “Red” Hamilton found himself so utterly overcome by the immediate circumstances that he set in to delivering an impromptu benediction which had some English to it but was mostly in Swahili as far as Daddy could tell, and the Reverend Mr. W.B. “Red” Hamilton stomped and waved his arms and generally cut up like an African until the commander could nod at Mr. Jeffrey Elwood Crawford Sr., who nudged Sheriff Burton, who took ahold of Reverend Red with both hands and moved him a little more violently than the spirit had. So at length the commander and Mr. Dunn managed to get Miss Pettigrew all the way out the church and down the sidewalk and slid her into the back of the hearse, and then the commander returned to the chapel alone and advanced up to the family pew where he stood aside to excuse the occupants who we had not been able to see previously and who turned out to be Aunt Willa [Miss Pettigrew’s long-time maid] and Aunt Willa’s sister and Aunt Willa’s sister’s daughter along with Mr. Jack Vestal and his wife who had redoubled her efforts at funerals ever since she gave up viewings and so appeared particularly overwrought and inconsolable, and I do believe it was all Mrs. Phillip J. King could do to keep from spitting on her as she walked by.

And that was the end of the funeral part of it…

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