This was fair warning not to enter the territory of religion, but I couldn’t resist.
“What do you mean you couldn’t do it? Jim’s wishes were clear. You, Joe, and I made a pack, as kids in the holly hill gang. We promised to carry out Jim’s wishes; it’s not our choice to make any changes.”
As a matter-of-fact the holly hill gang had made the promise many years earlier after my Aunt Viola’s wake. Aunt Viola made woman’s hats and could have coined the term “mad as a hatter”. I think she developed dementia from the mercury used in making the hats. Aunt Viola made us all crazy, even in death. Wakes in those days meant you waked, as in staying up all night with the dearly departed to protect them and make sure they made it to wherever they were headed. Aunt Viola’s wake and funeral were not at a funeral home, but in the front parlor of my house. God only knows why they felt Aunt Viola needed protection, who would want to steal her is beyond me. She never wanted to be embalmed in case she really wasn’t dead so the wake was the day after she died. This was the first wake for all of us so the process was new and intriguing. The whole holly hill gang, Jim, Mary, Joe and I came to my house for a sleep over. The house was creepy as if it were the one mourning for Aunt Viola. Black cloth draped the mirrors to keep the soul’s reflection from being captured on earth and never moving on. There was a black wreath and black cloth draping the entrance door. All the clocks were stopped at the time of her death. I wasn’t sure what moving on meant, but the thought of Aunt Viola stuck in my house for eternity terrified me. It was enough to keep me awake all night. Mary of course said she wanted to be there because it was the proper pious thing to do for a soul who has passed. Even at ten she was a pain in the ass. Mary suggested we go to the parlor and pray. Since none of us were going to be able to sleep this sounded like a good plan. My family was Methodist and we didn’t believe in the public show of piety as was seemingly demanded of Mary’s Catholic faith, but if praying meant Aunt Viola would not be caught in a mirror, I was game. We timidly descended the stairs and peeked into the front parlor.
Uncle John was on watch sitting in the red velvet Victorian chair, but the only protection he was giving Aunt Viola was his snoring which was loud enough to scare off any evil spirits. My fear was it was loud enough to wake the dead, in this case Aunt Viola. Mary went straight to the casket knelt and started praying, while the rest of us decided to have a closer look at Aunt Viola. We peaked over the edge of the casket and straight into Aunt Viola’s face. None of us had seen a dead person before so we were not sure of what to expect. I for one wanted to make sure she was dead. At the precise moment we were inspecting Aunt Viola her whole body jerked, I guess it’s called rigor mortis. We three boys ran from the room with Mary shrieking, crossing herself, and clutching a rosary. Once safe behind the locked door of my bedroom, which Mary was guarding with a crucifix, Jim, Joe, and I took a solemn oath to be cremated because the thought of ending up like Aunt Viola was too gross. Mary of course would not take the vow, Catholics don’t believe in cremation.
Mary’s convictions still hold her captive, they are dogma to be followed to the last Hale Mary but she should realize by now it’s wasted on me, however it didn’t stop her from trying, “Harry the Catholic Church permits cremation but I will not accept it. When Christ raises the dead we’ll need our body parts. If you spread Jim to the winds he’ll never come back together, he’ll suffer in purgatory for eternity or worse, rot in hell.”
Given our history Mary should know not to get me started on this subject. You see Mary was continuously trying to change Jim; she was forever playing the role of Yenta. It is Mary’s belief Jim was gay because he hadn’t found the right girl, so she offered up for sacrifice girl after girl hoping to find the perfect match for him. Mary even tried to target me, but I informed her she would be better off praying for my soul because I was going to be a gay man until I die, and if there was afterlife there also. I wondered if the protests were really because of her faith or because it was the proper attitude to keep peace in the family. I said, “That will please you and your conservative family. Didn’t you already think Jim’s lifestyle was sinful, and doomed him to an eternity of hellfire and damnation, so what does it matter if he were cremated? I’m sure you spend many hours praying for your homosexual brother’s soul. You must be going broke buying all those candles to light.”
Mary was really into this now; she put the tissue in her purse and sat it down on the table allowing the full use of her hands to bring the point home. “Yes I pray something you should think about.”
“I do pray Mary, in my own way,” I said, “But I don’t need my friends to know what I do. As a matter of fact I was praying this morning to be able to have the strength to come here at all. I’m here now. I consider it to be a sign of Jim’s direct intervention with God.”
“What does a tight ass Lutheran know about direct intervention from God? Harry, you don’t want to be seen in public practicing your faith.” Mary was on a role,” Just what right do you have to lecture to me? Don’t tell me how to practice my Catholicism.”
“I am Methodist not Lutheran. The soul doesn’t need a body to survive,” I added, “However, there are two parts Jim would be interested in saving and I am positive he would find them among his ashes. Jim never had problems finding any part of his body that gave him pleasure.”
We had accelerated to bitch fight status. Mary was shocked beyond tears; she called me a heathen among other things. “Lutheran, Methodist all you Protestants are alike. I believe at death we go to the heavenly realm of God with Christ. In heaven sex is not necessary we relish in the love of God and it is sufficient to sustain us.”
“It may not be necessary but I guarantee in my heaven and in Jim’s heaven there will be sex.” I was certain of Jim’s view, we talked extensively about death. “Jim believed heaven is like making passionate sex but without the guilt, especially the guilt you and your Catholic Church impose.” Perhaps I had gone a little too far with Mary.