Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Funerals and food

When I was little - six or eight - my father would take me to funerals with him. Maybe he wanted company because my mother would not go to the funeral of someone she did not know. I never knew these persons either, a compere of his parents in the Chinese community, the relative of a customer from the shop, someone from Laventille or Woodbrook, my father's circle of acquaintances was wide. I would watch and absorb the range of emotions, stony stoicism, sombre and respectful sobbing, to the wild bawling (oh gawd oh gawd oh gawd ...) at the gravesite. It was as much cinema as the westerns and epic movies that I also saw with my father. So my response to funerals was conditioned early.

When Daddy died - after months of protracted treatment, and pain, for stomach conditions which turned into cancer - it was hard to drum up emotional response. His suffering tormented me so that the end, his emaciated body sedated with morphine, was a relief. Guilt too - wondering whether I had ever done enough - ever been enough - for  him. He was a practical, generally unsentimental, tough cuss, but a family man who spent his life making money to make sure his family was taken care of, and as far as possible enjoying travel anywhere and all over the world, and food! Yes, cooking was his way of expressing love: all kinds of Chinese food, pows, fry dry fish, beef jerky and charsue pork! The funeral service, held in the Anglican church at midday - for all his life, he was non religious - served our purpose, but it was hard to think of him there, or in the cemetery plot which he shares with his father and mother. We think of him when we are ordering food in a dim sum restaurant, when we see the sea off Carenage or Chaguaramas and imagine him racing his boat - he loved speed - so we had to hold on against the wind!

My mother's funeral was as empty of her spirit as well. She had already been cremated. In a large modern space for worship in Florida, we spoke of her in proper sentences, and her grandchildren read passages out of Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God. The service brought some of her living relatives together, but was entirely surreal until the final hymn, played on a crackly portable boom box, recalled the Sunday broadcasts on Trini AM stations - played at top volume around the neighbourhood while small children tossed in their beds in the afternoon heat, unable to nap!

For a while after each death, my mind was empty of them. Not deliberately so, I just didn't think of them any where, any time. But time passed, and I would catch glimpses in an occasion, my own turn of phrase, turn of thought, actions and habits. In a taste, a smell, a dream, they come back often. I have so few photos, or things from them; but I realise they are not in the pieces of furniture I inherited. They are in me, in my brothers and sisters, and their brothers and sisters (uncles and aunts) still around.

One last thought: I don't want a funereal funeral. Fill up the house, have a feast. Play the music that I love - Paul Simon's Late in the evening! Joni Mitchell's Child of God! Rudder's Bahia girl and Calypso Music - to wash away the unlovely! - and Byron Lee's Tiny Winey. And if possible, sky burial or throw my body to the fishes in the deep blue sea! Joy to you and me!

Please, always be silly in my name!

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