I learned some things about the General’s brother this week that I didn’t know. Since I’ve known him for well over half a century, the new revelations came as a surprise. For starters, he can drive faster than 55 mph. I didn’t know that. Secondly, he has the capacity to be really funny. I wasn’t sure it was in him to color outside the lines, but he proved me wrong. At his mother’s request, he and I were to tag-team officiating at her funeral service.
The General’s mother historically has been fairly utilitarian and frugal in most aspects of her life. If she needed a new sofa, she’d simply opt to re-upholster the old one. If you process that statement to mean she outsourced the work to someone else, you’d be mistaken. Surprisingly, she could do upholstery work and was pretty good at it. Where she developed the skill, I don’t know.
So a few years ago when the General’s mother asked her brother to conduct her funeral service when the time came, she reportedly also had me in mind as a back up plan. If for some reason he could not or did not want to, it was permissible for me to be asked. She did suggest in writing (even though it was never shared with me personally), that I could handle the welcome and obituary and the first portion of the service. She would leave the more substantiate matters to her son. That is the same way it rolled out in her husband’s funeral seventeen years ago, so I wasn’t totally surprised when the General told me that her mother had requested my participation.
What that really means is that the General’s mother was okay with “homemade”. Like I said, she was utilitarian and practical when it came to most matters. She didn’t need to outsource a funeral service. She could appropriate it in-house. It might not be top shelf, but it was home grown and the price was right. I’d call that a sweet deal. Okay, so it was also an honor to be asked. I get that and I’m grateful.
The General’s brother of course was the “A-Team” and I’m the guy that got in just under the wire. Though the brother is light years younger than me, I doubted that I could convince him to vary from tradition and add a few more folks to the roster of those invited to speak. Why not give the grandchildren the option to share a reflection or two? That had not been included in the template his mother had hand written four and a half years ago, so I was doubtful he’d go for it. To my surprise, he was open to that and thought it was a good idea. I also suggested that the last thing we needed was a thirty-minute typical funeral message with three points and a poem at the end. He nodded his head indicating some kind of agreement, but he never got to the place that he actually verbalized he and I were on the same page. In the final analysis, he got the last word.
Okay, so was I was treading on dangerous waters? First of all, I wasn’t asked to do the funeral message. He was asked by his mother to conduct the service. What was I thinking? I’m telling him to color outside the lines even without knowing his capacity or comfort level in doing so. In addition, it also may have been the last thing his mother wanted. However, she did mention “happy and sometimes snappy”. What I envisioned clearly fell in that category.
Frankly, when Ernest announced at the funeral service on Tuesday that I had asked him to dispense with a regular message, but that he was going ahead with a message anyway, I thought to myself: “I figured as much!” He comes from a DNA string that innately negates being told by Don to do anything. He announced that he had even entitled the message: “She’s the Sweetest Lady I Know”.
So was I surprised? You can bet your life that I was surprised! The surprise wasn’t in the title, but in the content. For my books, he hit a home run and I’ve never been more surprised. The way I see it, you’d have to be blood-kin to get by with sharing the stories he shared. Some of that stuff probably falls under the category of “family secrets”. He literally let the cat out of the bag.
Consequently, he’s moved up a rung or two on the ladder in my books. If the General reads this blog, I’ll probably plummet a few rungs on hers. You’re probably wondering how close to the top the General’s brother is getting, but I’m not saying. Actually, to his credit he did move up a couple of steps.
Though he is younger than me, I perceived that he is probably more traditional and set-in-his-ways than I am. That, too, could be traced to his DNA. Some might even describe him as “old school”. I did and I have to concede that I had him figured wrong.
Before his message was over, it garnered a lot of laughter and clearly fell in the category of happy and snappy. His mother would have been pleased. He began by saying he was the favorite son though that was strictly coincidental. It could have had something to do with only having two sisters.
He mentioned that he titled the funeral message, “She’s the Sweetest Lady I Know”. He did so because invariably that is what everyone always said when they asked him how she was doing. He’d answer their question and they’d respond, “She’s the sweetest lady I know.”
I didn’t see the punch line coming, but he didn’t even flinch when he candidly announced: “Sometimes I saw her differently. Sometimes I found her to be difficult”. He purposefully elongated his enunciation of difffficccultt to garner a laugh. I don’t know what his sister’s thought about his true confession, but I immediately recognized that he and I have more in common than I thought.
Consequently, he told those in attendance, “I’ll share a few stories and then you decide.” He expressed gratitude to his two sisters for mostly tag-teaming together to make themselves available to help with their mother. He mentioned that Janetta, the sister from Florida, had spent a couple of weeks in Odessa with their mom because she needed the support. Subsequently, the General showed up for a change in shift and she spent a couple of weeks with her mother. He could see the handwriting on the wall. He was next in line to fill that void. Guilt is a great motivator. It was his turn.
Arriving in Odessa, he stopped by the hospital to visit his mother before he went to her home and they reportedly had the best visit. His mom was feeling well and was very conversational. She shared things about her childhood with him that he had never heard before. In fact he even had the thought: “She is the sweetest lady”.
She then shared with him that she had been mean to his two sisters. He didn’t mention any reference to “meaner than a junk yard dog”, but at the end of the day, mean is mean. Reportedly, she was mean with the General because the General had attempted for two consecutive weeks to tell her what to do and she didn’t like anyone to telling her what to do. I don’t know about you, but none of that surprised me in the least little bit. The General can have her moments.
She expressed to her son that she was mean to the other sister but that it really wasn’t her fault. She didn’t recognize that she was her daughter. She thought she was a home health care worker who had been moved inside her home to take care of her. Consequently, being mean to her didn’t really count.
The following day after the brother arrived, the General headed for home leaving her brother responsible for managing their mom. It didn’t prove to be a “heaven on earth” experience for either of them. His mother was released from the hospital the day he found himself with full responsibility. He was literally on his own and flying uncharted territory without radar.
It turned out not to be a pretty picture. He suggested to his mother that she come back to the hill country with him for a couple of weeks just to recuperate. In an instant, the General’s mother connected the dots in her head. She intuitively figured it all out. The explanation was simple: “His sisters had turned him against her”.
He breathed a sigh of relief. At least it was his sisters that were the object of his mother’s anger. But “Oh how quickly the tide can turn”. The next day, with the furry of Hurricane Opal, she let him have it for all it was worth. Apparently, even though he may have been tainted by his sister’s influence, she was now holding him fully responsible for his behavior. Not only did she not plan to go home with him, she clearly articulated that it was her preference that he go home period. She neither needed nor wanted him to be there.
Wow! He acknowledged in the funeral service that he knew either of his sisters would stick it out for a couple of weeks despite their mother’s behavior, but after two days he was done! That adds a whole new dimension to “rode hard and put up wet”. Consequently, he went home.
When he got back home several folks knowing it had been his intent to bring his mother back with him, asked if his mother had come home with him? In the course of the conversation they added: “She is the sweetest lady I know.”
Trust me, the brother-in-law was on a roll. Normally, I would have referred to him as the General’s brother, but I loved the guy’s transparency. Consequently, I figured he was going to need a friend after either of his two sisters finished with him. Of course there is an off chance that based on the laughter, they might give him a walk.
Time won’t permit me to share all the stories he shared, but with each story he referenced: “She’s the sweetest lady I know”. Each reference drew the sound of laughter. One of my favorites referenced the family rule that you eat everything on your plate. He didn’t remember how old he was at the time, but he clearly remembers the experience.
It was a church potluck. Someone had prepared what he thought were new potatoes. He covered his plate with them. Actually, new potatoes were the only food item he put on his plate. As he shared the story, I could even sense his anticipation of the taste. Nothing tastes better than fresh new potatoes.
Put yourself in his shoes. What would it feel like to subsequently make the sad discovery that the new potatoes were not new potatoes? I’m not sure I can write this without laughing out loud: “They weren’t new potatoes, they were turnips.” The way I see it, everyone is entitled to a mistake or two. The General’s mother was a strict constructionist. She saw it differently. She made her son eat everyone of those turnips. He did mention that to this day, he detests the taste of turnips. But you know what they say: “She is the sweetest lady.”
Over the past several years there have been lots of conversations related to her independence and reluctance to recognize that she wasn’t capable of doing everything related to maintaining her home. My brother-in-law mentioned the conversation less than a decade ago when his mother telephoned to ask about her need to repair her air conditioner.
She reported that it was really hot and that the air conditioner was not working. Reportedly, she knew what needed to be done, but she wasn’t sure how to get the part off to replace it. Ernest explained that she needed to recall a repairman. He went through a detailed description of the steps involved and none of them could be done without being on the roof. Any eighty-year-old (regardless of gender), has no business being on the roof.
Consequently, she opted to ask the question differently. She had already followed most of the steps he had explained. She was on the roof looking at the part. I don’t know which of them raised their voices first, but their conversation was less than amicable.
“So what are you going to do if you fall off the house?” Her son asked that question more than a little exasperated with his mother. She answered, “I brought my cell phone with me. If I fall, I can call someone for help”. I can’t remember who hung up on whom, but the conversation ended abruptly. The next day she called to report that she had repaired the air conditioner.
He shared a similar story of her changing out an electrical switch in her home. How she managed not to electrocute herself, he didn’t know. He told her not to do it. Reportedly, in the midst of differing opinions on her skill set, voices got raised and the conversation ended with an abrupt dial-tone. The next day, she telephoned him to report that she’d done it and it worked. You can guess the line: “She’s the sweetest lady I know.”
Two weeks following getting a pacemaker with instructions not to lift anything or exert herself, his mother telephoned her son to ask about cleaning out the dryer hose to ensure efficiency of the dryer’s operation. He was emphatic (I think he started the yelling match this time) that she could not and should not move the clothes dryer.
She reported that she had already done that. The conversation abruptly ended with the sound of another dial tone. She called the next day to report that she had resolved the problem without difficulty.
The brother talked about how his mother had the propensity to be the sweetest lady with grandchildren, but that sometimes found it a lot more challenging to initiate that approach with him.
His message ended on a very upbeat note. It was hilarious.
All My Best!