Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

O, this solemn, Holy day.

Church tonight, and then I signed up to sit in vigil in the Altar of Repose (conjures images of chaises lounges and fainting sofas, right?) from Midnight until one in the morning. On Sunday, my father's obituary, crafted by Yours Truly, will appear in the local paper.

To wit:

Howard Francis Kramer passed away on March 6, 2008. He was 82.

He was the husband of Jane (Kavetski) of Philadelphia; Robina (Cunningham) of Fife, Scotland; and Kathleen (Tedesco) of Lansdale. His three wives preceded him in death. Howard was born in Philadelphia, son of Heber and Sara (Shomo) Kramer. For 60 years, he lived in Point Pleasant.

He attended Olney High School in Philadelphia and National Farm School (now Delaware Valley College), was a World War II-era veteran, and retired after 29 years of service with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, spending most of that time as an inspector with the Bureau of Foods and Chemistry. Howard was a member and trustee of the Retired Public Employees of PA AFSCME Chapter 13, formerly a member of the recently disbanded Point Pleasant Senior Citizens, served as an election official and Democratic Committeeman of Plumstead Township, and has been a member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church for over 60 years.

Howard Kramer is survived by his son David and David's wife Nancy of Venice, Florida; and by his son Drew of Point Pleasant; and by his stepson Maurod Hammoutene of Stockton, New Jersey, the husband of his deceased daughter, Kathleen.

Solemn Eucharist will be celebrated at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Doylestown on Saturday, March 29 at 11:00 A.M. A reception will follow in Paxson Hall. Interment will be private at the convenience of the family.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization working to raise public awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of severely injured service men and women, to help severely injured service members to aid and assist each other, and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs. Donations may be mailed to: Wounded Warrior Project, P.O. Box 758517, Topeka, KS 66675-8517. If you have any questions, please contact them at donorservices@woundedwarriorproject.org
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Slowly but surely I'm making progress. I just about have the dumpster filled, no mean feat as the thing is as big as a swimming pool. And Way Hot Man has been a huge help, taking off my hands the Enormous Blue Sofa, the most useable of the three Lay-Z-Boy recliners, the coffee table, and the highboy chest of drawers, which now grace the South Philadelphia home of a friend of Way Hot Man who is disabled and lives alone.

And yesterday, I dealt with the guns.

Y'see, my father had a few rifles from when he would go hunting as a young man. When my brother was up here, one night while talking to his wife, he reached under the bed he was lying on and discovered all the ammo for the rifles. This elicited a Major Freak Out from my brother, who, it seems, is made terrifically uncomfortable by guns. I promised him I'd take care of them before his return.

The ammunition was dealt with easily enough: I took it to the local constabulary (a.k.a. the Plumstead Township Police Department). Then I took the guns to a local dealer, Quinby's Gun Shop.

I wasn't quite prepared for that.

I imagined it would be staffed by salt-of-the-earth hardworking guy next door types, basically an amalgam of guys that I know who hunt. Hunting, basically, is taking a walk in the woods with a dog, and occasionally, you manage to shoot a deer and you have some good venison to eat upon your return. I have no problem with that. In fact, three of those elements--the dog, the walk in the woods, good things to eat--I'm pretty enthusiastic about.

But no.

When you were growing up, did you know any kids who were snake nerds? In their perpetually darkened bedrooms, the only source of light would be the faint purple glow coming from a few aquariums, and in those aquariums would be coiled snakes. Remember how there was something vaguely creepy about snake nerd kids? Probably this was largely attributable to the fact that they routinely took small, furry mammals with large pleading eyes and dropped them into the aquariums and watched as the small, furry mammals with large pleading eyes were devoured by cold-blooded reptiles.

So did you ever wonder what happened to snake nerd kids when they grew up? I mean, they couldn't all become serial killers, right?

Yesterday, I found out.

Snake nerds grow up to become gun nerds.

Or at least some of them do.

Like, the more socially maladapted ones.

Oh. My. God.

Here's a sampling of overheard repartee amongst the gun nerds at Quinby's Gun Shop...

"That would be a nice gun to go hunting for Democrats with."

"So he's a muslim. Why don' he jus' come out and say he's a muslim? Cuz with that name, that automatically means you're a muslim."

"Yeah. And his father was from Africa and his mother was a white woman, and we all know what that's about."

"Democrats want to make them there guns illegal. They call them 'sniper rifles.'"

"I keep hoping ev'er' day that they get a big earthquake in California and that whole comm-u-nist state would drop into the goddamn ocean. And New Jersey, too."

"So you and the family got plans for Waco Day?"

My nerves were set on edge when I walked into the place, and one of the gun nerds was checking out the scope alignment with a high-powered rifle (and yes, layman that I am, I would call that a 'sniper rifle'), and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light inside, I perceived that it was pretty much trained right at my heart.

The conversation didn't do much to put me at ease. I had this Imp of the Perverse inspiration to gently clear my throat and announce in a tremulous falsetto with stentorian tones, "Gentlemen, I'll have you know that I am a Democrat and and homosexual." Happily, I successfully fought this impulse.

Oh. And all these guys, despite whatever lethal-looking handguns or sniper rifles they were looking at were all armed to the fucking teeth with side arms. One bloated old toad had two enormous six shooters in a leather belt with holsters, worn like he was spending the day hunting down Pancho Villa.

Do the carry laws in Pennsylvania really allow for that? Or do they just get all gussied up and ready for a quick draw contest when they make their special daily trip to Quinby's Gun Shop? Oh. And since I was there at about two-thirty on a Thursday afternoon, I guess we can assume that these guys don't do much in the way of working for a living but instead have no problems with suckling at the teats of the god-forsaken liberal welfare state?

The guy I was dealing with offered me $170 for my father's rifles and I took the money and ran.

To unwind, I had to go home and do some major Dusting and Cleaning for the balance of the afternoon.

That night was church (duh!). Maundy Thursday services.

Oh man.

How are people not episcopalian? How do people manage to live lives of meaning and significance without once a year on the Thursday before Easter participating in one of the most beautiful and significant sacred rites ever devised by humanity?

Here's the order of things. First, there's the Maundy, the washing of the feet. It's particularly poignant when such a simple, humble human activity is elevated to the Sublime. And then Holy Communion, which goes off as usual, only we're all reminded by the scripture reading that this is a celebration of the night that got the whole Holy Communion ball rolling. And then things really get going. They take all of the left over consecrated host down to the wee little chapel. After we in the congregation get done singing that beautiful mournful hymn, we're all just kind of standing around, not quite sure what to do with ourselves. Especially since there were no clear directions given in the service leaflet along the lines of "The People Stand" or "The Congregation, the Celebrant, and the Altar Party Kneel." Since I'm squarely in the True Presence Camp, I decided to take a seat, and a few others followed suit once the host was out of there. So then, the altar party comes back, wearing only black cassocks, and they proceed to strip the altar. It makes me tremble watching it. The message there is that God is dead. Love does not conquer death, but all human endeavor and aspiration ends in the grave. There is no Truth. There is no light to lighten our darkness. We are insignificant little beings rutting around in the mire for a cosmically brief time before everything is extinguished by a colliding comet or our own blood-thirsty warring ways. Once everything is stripped and locked away, the lights come on and we all just get up and leave.

So this year, for me, Maundy Thursday was particularly moving. During the Maundy, I thought of myself just two weeks ago, changing my poor dad's diaper, rubbing his feet and his legs down with lotion.

And the stripping of the altar.

Yeah.

Oh yeah.

The Baron, although he hasn't come right out and said it, accuses me of working tirelessly to efface all traces of my father from this house, loading up that swimming-pool-sized dumpster with not just "his things," but with my memories of him. Committing to the rubbish all traces of evidence of my father's time on earth.

And, I will admit that there's some truth there.

But not entirely.

Yes, definitely, everything that's cheap and soiled and old and worn out and stupid--and that is pretty much everything--I want to get out of this house and out of my life immediately. The flotsam left in the wake of hospice care was the first to go. I will not remember my father by some collection of geegaws blackened by age and decrepitude. Only by a few select things, things that are pure and good and beautiful. Things that suggest to me those aspects of my father that I loved.

If it were the case--and it's not, but if it were--that there was nothing that my father left behind that met these high standards, then all of it would go the way of all flesh, back to dust. And instead, I'd have only pure, clear memories of that wonderful, kind man, who never let me forget for a minute of my entire time on earth that he loved me.

3 comments:

kiturgy said...

Wow! We are having very different experiences of Holy Week, yet in some peculiar ways, oddly similar.It's a huge transition time--it's good that you are taking this time time to ritualize it--as your home life parallels the cycle of church life.

Prayers and blessings are ever with you.
-kit

Becky said...

My mother has recently opted to have us go through her things and dispose of them while she's still alive (but living in a care facility, tended to by hospice).

Over and over again, as I've asked if there's ANYthing she wants with her, even photos, she says that none of it really matters. Of course, I'm not quite at that place--there are still things that are special to me because of my many wonderful memories of my parents and growing up, or because they belonged to my grandparents.

But I do understand that she's got an entirely different focus now, and really, it's a relief to know that she wouldn't care if we trashed the whole lot of it. It allows my siblings, her grandchildren, and me to hold on only to what's meaningful to us, and not to feel weighed down by things my mother has stopped caring about.

INQUISITION said...

THAT LAST LINE,isn't that all we can hope for,your a blessed man......maybe thats why you want to help other men find a way...through whatever means.