Yesterday was Miss Sally’s second funeral.
The first was a few weeks ago, just for the family. The Preacher and I stood with them as her ashes were spread over the graves of her parents, then over the life-sized statue of the standard poodle she so adored. The wind was blowing, so we were instructed to not stand down wind, which ended up being a very good idea. I was struck by the idea of how funny Miss Sally would have thought this was, all of us moving this-way-and-that so as not to be in her way (like we’ve always done with her), and I giggled out loud during the eulogy, snorted a little, actually. But as I said, the wind was blowing, so I don’t think anyone heard me.
The wind blew as Sally joined the other souls departed from Elmwood Cemetery – Shelby Foote and soldiers from the Civil War, the Martyrs of Memphis, Sister Constance and her companions – Sally joins all who have gone first into the brilliant hope of life everlasting.
I stood apart from the rest of the group; one of Sally’s relatives asked me to take pictures of the ceremony, handing me her phone before she sat down. It’s always remarkable what one sees at a funeral, human fallibility especially magnified through the vehicle of a lens – wet eyes, dry ones; interest, lack thereof; humor, agony. One man kept looking at his watch while the woman beside him wept with no restraint.
Living and dying are unique to each of us – what a paradoxical wonder to watch it all unfold on the extra large screen of an iPhone 7.
Life is brief.
Yesterday’s funeral was for her neighbors, arranged by the neighbors, for the neighbors. The wind is blowing again, but today there are no ashes – just memories rising from them, the most beautiful of things.
There were thirteen of us present. So many of her neighbors have already passed away – theirs is an old neighborhood. There was a goodly number of walkers parked in the aisle of the small chapel at Elmwood. Larry and I were the “young ones” present and, if you know us, the absurdity is hilarious. The weather was bad yesterday, alerts on the iPhones screaming with regularity, so several of Sally’s neighbors were afraid to drive in the storm and had to stay home.
Peg brought pictures of Sally from her house. Peg has a picture of Miss Sally at her debutante ball in 1947 – she was a knockout. I mean really, like an old movie star, with those magnificent lips and eyebrows. She modeled for Oleg Cassini for three weeks in NYC until her mother summoned her home saying, “Southern girls don’t do that sort of thing.”
Jeanne played Amazing Grace on the old chapel piano (that should have been tuned a few years ago), and we were glad to sing a song that everyone knew the words to. Jeanne played with aplomb, like pianists did in churches years ago – lots of trills and flourishes – and we sang accordingly.
Larry read Psalm 23 (what Sally wanted), and we all cried at the phrase, My cup runneth over. Hers did and ours were, and we all understood it and there is great power in the collective feeling of such an overflowing.
Barb told stories about how Miss Sally welcomed her when she was new to the neighborhood, with tea and cucumber sandwiches – days gone by.
Margaret, who worked at one time for the Memphis Press Scimitar, told of Sally’s visiting the elderly on Sunday afternoons with her poodle and a tiny kitten in tow, for the old folks to pet. According to Margaret, the old folks adored Sally.
Miss Sally had a wicked Southern accent, and we all tried to mimic it in our storytelling, but it’s a bit like trying to mimic the voice of Flannery O’Connor or Eudora Welty. Sally’s in a category all her own, a true Southern dying breed (no disrespect intended), above us, really, in ways of elegance and charm, so we sit in the wonder of it and pretend to be her for a minute or two in our collective memory.
Thirteen of us gathered to remember her, through wind and rain.
I’ve been pondering the idea of friendship in the last years. What it really means to stick with someone, through thick and thin, what it means to live a full and complete life, in all of its times, good and bad. I think a real friendship is like a real marriage – for better or worse, in sickness and in health – those words mean something to me, and they meant something to Sally. C.S. Lewis says, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” Sally’s friendship gave my life great value – I hope I added to hers like she added to mine. I learned more about loyalty and personal strength from her than just about anyone I know.
Thirteen of us gathered yesterday, through wind and rain, to love a woman who taught us about loving deeply, who taught us to love even through disappointment and pain, because that’s what life entails, a real life, anyway.
Thirteen of us. Thirteen reasons why life is wonderful and friendship makes it better and true friends stick no matter what – through wind and rain.
Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
Sally is one I was sure of. I want to be more like her, a surer friend today than yesterday.
Surely goodness and mercy followed her all the days of her life, and she is dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.