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Saturday, December 22, 2001

The storm that battered us today would have discouraged us from a pleasure excursion into the Mendocino County wilderness. But since our destination was the Hopland Cemetery, and today was the assigned day, we really had no choice. I'm just grateful John was doing the driving — not because of the rain and wind as much as the fact that I can recall at least two or three places where I would have turned the wrong way, and we might still be wandering the streets of Ukiah looking for the mortuary. (Plus, John gave me fresh crab to bring home tonight! But that's another entry entirely.)

Anyway, the point is that it was raining hard most of last night and today, with just enough breaks to give us a little hope that we wouldn't be standing in the cemetery watching my uncle's grave fill up with water. The cemetery is out in the countryside, with a gravel road running through it and red clay on the ground. It would be an awful mess on a day like this.

My house is in the country, too, and I'm often at the mercy of the weather. As I was getting ready this morning, something knocked my power out. Fifteen minutes later I was in the middle of my shower when the water stopped running. It's a good thing I had a bottle of water ready on the bathroom floor (to flush the toilet in case of emergency), so I could rinse the shampoo out of my hair without dripping all over the house.

The rain had not only flooded the driveway, but it had covered the walkway from my house to the garage. The worst place is in front of the side door to the garage, but I never use that door, so I don't usually worry about it. When the power's out, though, and the automatic opener doesn't work, that side door is the only way I can get to my car. So I had to wade through that swamp, open the overhead door by hand from the inside, back my car out, and then stand outside in the rain and close the door by hand. So I was drenched and dripping before we even got out of town.


Farewell, Uncle Tommy.

It's a little over an hour's drive to Ukiah, under the best conditions. With the storm pounding away on us, we gave ourselves two hours to get to the mortuary. That's why we were there more than half an hour before the hearse was scheduled to leave for the cemetery. There was no service at the mortuary, because we're having a memorial for Uncle Tommy next month, here in Santa Rosa. That's the way he wanted it.

It's hard not to lapse into gallows humor when you're sitting around a funeral parlor lobby, waiting. The coffin was a simple one, as Tom had requested, and the flowers we ordered were tastefully displayed on it. We really couldn't have asked for much more, except for everybody else to please get there so we could head out to the cemetery. The funeral director apologized for wearing old clothes, but he said he's ruined a lot of shoes and slacks in muddy rural cemeteries on days like this.

When the other mourners did arrive, we had to race to catch up with the hearse for the processional. It's about fourteen miles south from Ukiah to Hopland, and we covered it in about ten minutes. I mean, that coffinmobile was moving, and the three or four vehicles trailing it had to work to keep up. We had the heaviest downpour of the day during that drive, and things looked bad for the graveside service.

But it was wonderful! The rain stopped, and the sky grew lighter and more promising, at just about the time we got to the cemetery. The priest and a few family and friends who were smart enough to go directly to the grave were there waiting for us, but we were less than five minutes later than the appointed time.

The service was simple and down to earth (so to speak). Tom wanted a priest, and there were enough Catholics in the crowd that the amens and such came out loud and clear. After a few prayers and readings, Tom's companion and caregiver Nan read a message from his ex-wife, an inspiring elegy celebrating the spirit that allowed him to overcome the effects of polio for so many years.

Mom also spoke about her baby brother whom she'd raised almost as her own child, and some old friends of Tom's from school spoke warmly of how highly he was regarded by the people who knew him. They were first-year student nurses when he was in the hospital at 19, and they got special dispensation to help care for him while he was in an iron lung. Even at that dark time, he kept his good humor, and that's what they wanted to share with us.

After the service, we caught up with family members we hadn't seen for a long time (since the last family funeral, in most cases). We were pleasantly surprised that so many of them showed up, because they had to come from much further away than we did, on a dreary day just before Christmas. We appreciated the care and concern that gesture showed. The family has scattered in many different directions, but it's good to know it can still come together when we need it to.


Mourners at graveside.

We got rained on again on our way home to Santa Rosa. It wasn't until after today's events were finished that all the stress of this past week started to catch up with me. I think Mom felt it, too, because she didn't want me to stay with her for dinner tonight. She went to bed early. I came home and dropped onto the couch, and before I knew what was happening I fell asleep. Two hours later I woke up, in the dark and slightly disoriented. But at least the power had come back on during the day, so I could turn on a light and figure out where I was. I think I'll sleep well tonight, and maybe most of tomorrow.

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One year ago: A Christmas Churl

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