Chapter 29: The Funeral
Each day opens a fresh page. By early May that year, the sun was bright and glittered. The brown and grey desert from the winter months had turned into an immodest green with the late-spring rains, especially in riparian areas. The more recent of downpours carved new paths into stream beds. The desert was suffused with sparse swatches of bright colors. Pink neon crimson of the cholla bloom. Brilliant purples and lavenders of trailing-windmill and brownfoot flowers. The vibrant orange of the common fiddleneck. The last of the lingering spring winds were whipping up in defiance of the on-coming burning summer heat. But on that afternoon, houses in Douglas were emptied, doors locked.
I entered the packed church. The walls were painted a soft chiffon yellow. Puffy clouds were whitewashed on the ceiling above the pulpit. The stained glass windows, each with a different mosaic from the Bible, lined the walls and the window framing was painted stark white. Sunshine beamed behind a statue of the Virgin Mother. The pews were shiny oak and neatly matched Emily’s coffin. The off-white satin-lined coffin was adorned with shiny brass handles.
Emily lay with her wavy blond hair that lay neatly on her shoulders. She looked as if she had just returned from the beauty parlor. The rosary, given to her by her father when she received communion at 16, draped over her folded hands. Her face, once animated and full of life, had a squeamish tint from the makeup used by the funeral home.
Emily’s hands clutched a small copper picture frame with a photo of her two children, Juan Jr., and Carlos. Carlos buried his face into Sherri’s side. Sherri always dressed in bright colors, except on the day of her husband’s funeral and today. She looked to be broken woman — wrinkled with exhaustion. She looked to her grandchildren and teared up.
I placed my badge on the lower half of the coffin. It was only a few long days after her death and grief wrapped it’s fingers around my lungs. The gold star caught the sunlight and glinted yellow and red.
Cars were lined up from Dolores Avenue around to Fifth Street. Many cars were double-parked. When the procession finally gathered, vehicles snaked for over a mile to the Calvary Cemetery. The air stood still at the cemetery and the sun shined unusually bright on the shoulders of the bereaved and onlookers. On her tombstone was inscribed a message, “We walk too briefly on this earth. Your life must be lived with passion.”
At the gravesite, family and close friends passed slowly in single-file by the lowered coffin. The family stood by and stared into the grave. The steady thump of dirt pitched onto the coffin that seemed to incrementally harden the look on the family. There are moments when boys learn that the world has other ways of breaking a woman. The barriers, borders and lines expose and define us.
I once arrived in a car filled with boxes of books, two guitars, a trunk stuffed with clothes, and a heart filled with hope. Faith and hope are evil charms that relinquish the truth. I put the key in the ignition and started the car. The sun peered through the windshield of my old Plymouth. I settled into the front seat and adjusted the rearview mirror. I spotted a Cochise County Sheriff’s Deputy that I once met on the courthouse steps in Bisbee. He was directing traffic away from the crowds. In a sign of respect, I tipped my hat as I passed. In the front seat rested a framed photo of Emily, her two boys and me. I turned onto G Street and headed out of town towards Tucson.n.
This story was cast a long time ago. It was in a youthful season — in a place that now dwells in soft dreams. It was at a time where hope once sang, the desert stretched out far ahead, and the scent of late-spring was the strongest.
(C) 2019-2022 Ron McFarland, All Rights Reserved