Early Mourning Clouds
A commotion out in the kitchen made the message being delivered in clipped tones over a crackling line almost impossible to understand. Meghan covered her outer ear with her free hand and said, “I’m sorry, the line is very bad. Could you say that again please?”
Movement behind her disturbed the light. Meghan turned and saw Jerry in the doorway to the kitchen waving apologetically. Meghan took her hand from her ear and held it up to stop him as the dismissive message delivered with a level of condescension she hadn’t heard since the last time she’d tried to contact Jack’s mother marched down the line.
“I see,” said Meghan. “You’re quite certain?”
Meghan pulled her head back slightly as the line was cut without further comment from the other end. Taking the receiver from her ear she stared at it in disbelief before setting it gently onto its cradle with a shake of her head.
Inhaling deeply and holding it Meghan gazed up at the far corner of the living room and counted to ten. Slowly she released her breath, ironed her dress with her palms, turned towards the kitchen and said, “Hi, Jerry. Come in, please.”
Jerry came into the room and they embraced as they always did although Meghan noticed he left out the little flirtatious squeeze he usually threw in.
“How you holding up?” he asked.
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” said Meghan, turning back to straighten the telephone which didn’t need straightening. “Jack and I spoke about this a lot, yet …” The sentence trailed off as Meghan continued straightening the telephone. Recovering herself a little, “You can make all the preparations all the plans in the world, but when the moment comes you’re never ready for it. Even with my father. He was ill for such a very long time, in so much pain. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t breathe. There was only ever going to be one outcome. Death, in his case, was far better than life, but still … when it happens you’re left feeling … empty … just so empty.”
“What’s to be done?” said Jerry. “What can I do?”
“You can stay for a cup of coffee.”
“Let me make it,” said Jerry holding up a finger.
He turned and went into the kitchen.
Meghan took a few paces to the front window. A line of cars like a cortege crept past the front of the house. Church goers, thought Meghan, taking macabre delight in passing a house in grief before their weekly rendezvous with God and a sniping fashion critique of what their neighbors considered their Sunday best.
Perhaps that’s being a little too harsh, she thought as a child’s arm seemed to point straight at her from the rear window of a car. I’m grieving. I’m allowed, she replied to herself and even though she hadn’t expected the telephone call to Jack’s mother to go particularly well the wound left by the pointed rebuke was very much open and raw.
The low whistle of water starting to boil came from the kitchen along with the slapping of cupboard doors and the clink and clank of spoons in mugs.
From the kitchen Rosie’s voice curled around the corner, “Hi, Uncle Jerry.”
“Hey Sweetie, would you like a drink?” said Jerry.
“No thanks. I’ve already brushed my teeth. Have you seen Scratch?”
“He’s out in the garage fixing his bike.”
The kettle broke into a shrill whistle drowning out Rosie’s response and slowly decayed as it was taken from the stove.
Jerry’s footsteps announced his return to the living room. Coming up alongside Meghan he handed her a steaming mug and asked, “Kids alright?”
Meghan warmed her hands on the mug.
“Shocked, but so far they seem to be coping.”
“Well, what’s the first step?”
Still staring out the window Meghan said, “I suppose strafing the street is out of the question.”
“The Air Force frowns on decorating their streets with fifty-caliber potholes.”
“Vultures all of them. Picking over the bones of the grief of others.”
“You could shut the curtain.”
“I’ll not give them the satisfaction.”
“Anything else? … Perhaps something legal.”
“I’m still in a spin. There’s the children, funeral arrangements, framing the future … all in full view of those voyeurs,” said Meghan, with a nod at the procession in the street. “Where do you start?”
“Don’t forget your own grief.”
“Later once the kids are settled.”
Jerry took a sip of coffee and his time in swallowing.
“I suppose the arrangements come first,” continued Meghan. “Do you think you could help with those?”
“Certainly although I think the Air Force may have some ideas about that.”
“The Air Force can go screw themselves.”
Jerry swallowed a chortle, “I see you and Jack have spoken about this.”
“It will be family and friends … only.”
“Might ruffle a few feathers,” said Jerry with a slight shrug. “Although, Jack always was a feather ruffler.”
“Could you help?”
“You mean buck the system? Take from high and mighty one of their greatest occasions, the funeral of a two-war hero. Deny the self-righteous and the sanctimonious their greatest stage for delivering two-faced pretensions in sonorous tones and destroy any future prospect of personal promotion or advancement?”
Jerry took a long slow swig of his coffee and held it in his mouth. He swirled his mug while he swallowed slowly. Pursing his lips he nodded his head a couple of time as if weighing up the odds before he said, “Yeah … I can do that. When were you thinking?”
“As soon as practical. It’s what Jack wanted. He only stayed with the Air Force because they had the best planes.”
“That’s true enough,” said Jerry.
“He hated the bureaucracy and the politics. They were the only two things that could ever make him angry —”
“You do realize this means we might have to kidnap him.”
“He alluded to that once or twice.”
“In what way?”
Meghan half turned. Jerry twisted his head towards her. They looked steadily into each other’s eyes.
“He said, Do it,” said Meghan.
Jerry’s face curled into a half grin.
“Family and friends it is,” he said, raising his mug in a toast.
Scratch entered the living room wiping his hands on the back of his pants. The telephone rang.
“Oh for crying out loud,” said Meghan rushing to the phone before either of the other two could reach it. “Hello.”
She rested the receiver on her shoulder and started to examine her nails. The scratchy voice on the other end stumbled over itself, paused, restarted, paused and stumbled on again. Meghan made no effort to listen, preferring instead to insert randomly selected stock responses based on the tone of the voice or a trailing inflection. “No … Perhaps … Not right now … No … That won’t be necessary …” She neither knew nor cared if the responses fit the conversation or not.
After a suitable interval she’d had enough, “Okay, thanks. No, really, that won’t be necessary. Good bye … No … Good bye.” Seeing that wasn’t working she reached down and rapped the cabinet top with her knuckles, “I’m terribly sorry. There’s someone at the door. I really must go … Good bye.” She hung up the phone and smacked herself on the forehead with both palms.
“Who was that?” asked Jerry.
“I don’t know. Smithers, or Smothers, or Souther or Sutter, something like that.” Meghan ironed her dress with her hands again. She shook her head, “I have no idea who they were.”
“What did they want?” asked Scratch.
“I wasn’t really listening,” said Meghan returning to the front window. “Something about financial advice for a widow or maybe they were selling something. They said they’d ring back.” She turned back towards the phone, “Hopefully we’ll have moved by then.”
The phone rang again. “Allow me,” said Jerry, raising his hand to stop the other two and take his turn. He picked up the phone and with a mechanical voice said, “Hello. I’m afraid the family are not accepting any phone calls at the present time. They very much appreciate the heartfelt support of all their friends and neighbors and look forward to re-initiating discourse in due course. In the meantime please leave your message after the tone.” Jerry hesitated a few seconds. “Beep!”
He put the receiver down on the telephone table and brought his finger to his lips signaling the need for total silence. A faint stutter could be heard through the earpiece. After a few more seconds Jerry bent over the receiver and said, “Beep!” before pressing down on the cradle.
He left the receiver on the table, picked up a cushion from the sofa and placed it over the ear piece to muffle the dial tone.
Turning to the others he said, “Marvelous invention, answering machines.”
“Thanks, Jerry. It’s been like that all morning I’ve had sympathy, grief, advice and counseling, mostly from people who barely acknowledge my presence when our paths cross in public.”
“Most of them are afraid of you,” said Jerry.
Meghan looked at the cushion covering the receiver on the telephone stand and scrunched her face into a question. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Did you get through to Boston?” asked Jerry.
“Well,” said Meghan, throwing out a gesture of hopelessness, “I telephoned the house, I spoke to someone but I don’t think you could say I got through.”
“Will she be coming?” asked Jerry.
“The message she had delivered was that she did not have a son,” Then, after catching Scratch in the corner of her eye, she glanced down into her mug and quickly added, “Who wants a cup of coffee?”
“I’ll get them,” said Scratch.
He collected mugs from the others, turned and limped slightly into the kitchen.
Meghan crossed the room and slumped onto the sofa. She grabbed a cushion, held it close to her stomach and scowled at the telephone.
“I don’t know, Jerry,” she said. “What drives people to intrude into other’s grief like that.”
“Profit usually,” said Jerry, taking up the other end of the sofa. “When Barry, my brother-in-law, was killed in Korea a host of long lost friends, distant relatives, and concerned samaritans rolled up. Most of them with their hand out to recover some long forgotten debt, or the return of an ancient favor. Every damn one of them fictitious I’ll bet. They played on Sarah’s emotions, telling her it was what Barry would have wanted.”
“Scavengers,” said Meghan.
“Far worse though were the benevolent souls that came to offer their expertise in helping to organize the frail widow’s financial affairs as such things are often beyond the grasp of the average woman, especially when they are in such a precarious emotional state.”
Meghan shot a fiery glance along the sofa.
Jerry held his hands up in a silent, don’t shoot me, and said, “Their words not mine.”
“Nothing like a little greed to take the edge off grief,” said Meghan.
“Worst of all was Barry’s brother,” said Jerry. “He browbeat Sarah into giving him control of the life insurance payout. Less than a week later he and the money were gone.” Jerry drew his mouth into a tight line. “If I ever get my hands on that son of a bitch.”
Scratch walked in carrying a tray with three mugs of coffee and set it on the table in front of the sofa. He picked up his mug, backed away and leaned on the sideboard next to the telephone.
“Well, Jack’s an only child so at least I won’t have to deal with that,” said Meghan.
They sat silently letting their coffee cool.
“Maybe a good scrap is just the thing I need,” said Meghan.
Something must have caught Jerry’s eye. He sat up and looked out the front window. “Careful what you wish for,” he said half-distractedly, “it might come true sooner than you think.”
Jerry rose from the sofa. The doorbell rang.
“Oh for crying out loud,” said Meghan, slapping the sofa with both hands.
“I’ll get it,” cried Scratch, putting down his mug and racing to the front door.
He pulled it open.
“Hello? Hello? Mrs Thornton? I’m not intruding am I?” said Mrs Pearson intruding into the room, pushing Scratch to one side and planting a chunky heel squarely on his bare foot.
Scratch swallowed a scream, shut the door and backed into the corner.
Mrs Pearson hadn’t quite made it into the center of the room when she stopped, eyed Jerry and Meghan standing side by side and started sputtering like an overheated coffee pot. “Oh … dear. Excuse me …I … I … I … didn’t mean to interrupt,” she rattled.
Yes you did, thought Meghan, because that’s all you ever do. She forced a benign smile and said, “We’re just having a cup of coffee. Would you like one?”
Scratch squeezed past Mrs. Pearson sideways making an exaggerated effort to avoid contact of any kind, picked up the tray from the table and limped heavily into the kitchen.
“No … thank you. I really mustn’t stay,” Mrs Pearson burbled.
She seems to be having difficulty regaining her composure. Rather unusual for her, thought Meghan. She took a quick peek at Jerry out of the corner of her eye. Could it be Jerry? she wondered.
“I just dropped by … briefly … to see if there was anything thing we could do. The Colonel and I that is. If there was anything The Colonel … or I … we … us … could do … for you. We were speaking about it over breakfast this morning.”
Meghan pictured breakfast at the Pearson’s with Mrs. Pearson babbling non-stop, her ratty little dog scampering around the table begging for scraps and licking ankles, the Colonel glowering over his toast and coffee injecting single syllable responses only when silence no longer sufficed.
“We decided —” said Mrs. Pearson.
We? wondered Meghan. Would that have been you and the dog?
“— thought it best for me to come around as soon as possible I’ve been to the early service you see to see if there was anything we could do … for you.”
It is Jerry being here, thought Meghan. “That’s very kind of you, but we’re fine really,” she said.
“There’s so much to think about …” said Mrs Pearson, ignoring as usual all interruptions to her monologue and, menacingly, seeming to edge towards some sort of recovery. Ticking items off on her fingers she barreled through, “Arrangements to be made … organizing … flowers … wreaths … order of service, hymns, refreshments, cards, speeches, honor guards, the President must be told. You have no idea. We’ll need a guest speaker. Nothing less than a senator will do. Perhaps we can get the vice president. He comes from California. Oh, that would be a lovely touch. I’ve met his wife you know. Pat’s such a lovely woman. Yes, a few words from the vice president. That would be perfect. The Colonel, of course, will deliver the full eulogy.” She dropped her voice an octave and continued with authority, “The Colonel feels very strongly about supporting the family in times such as these.”
Have you finished? Meghan asked silently.
“As I say, there’s a thousand things to do,” Mrs Pearson her hands started rolling over each other again.
“I shall make the initial contact with the funeral home in Lancaster. They do such good work there. I’ll get things moving. There’s no need for you to … it must be so difficult … with the children and everything. The Colonel will arrange the military honors of course —”
“Jack won’t be going to Lancaster,” said Meghan.
Scratch, returning from the kitchen, stopped and leaned against the doorframe.
“— he’s such a strength in times likes these always finds the right — Oh, what’s the word? Balance. Yes, balance. The Colonel always —” Mrs Pearson stopped. Her face bore the expression of having just heard a most wicked blasphemy. “I beg your pardon?”
Oh, you do listen occasionally, thought Meghan. “Jack won’t be going to Lancaster —”
“That can’t be —”
“— and there’s no need for either you or the Colonel to work on any of the arrangements. It will be a simple family affair with a few friends.”
“Impossible! I mean … We’ve already started.”
Out of the corner of her eye Meghan caught Jerry giving her a knowing look.
“Jack was quite specific,” said Meghan.
Silence, disturbed only by the rhythmic ticking of the clock, enveloped the room. Meghan enjoyed watching the stillness unsettle Mrs. Pearson.
“Really, Meghan, I mean Mrs Thornton. This is most irregular,” said Mrs Pearson turning back into a sputtering coffee pot. “The Colonel always … There’s protocol—” She clasped her hands in front of her. “May one enquire as to the specific nature of your plans?”
“Family and a few close friends. Jack’s very words.”
“I don’t understand,” said Mrs. Pearson. “There’s form …convention … people need to pay their respects … they need to be seen to care … speeches must be made …. there’s ritual to consider … propriety … new hats.” Screwing herself up like a diva about to deliver her most important aria she continued, “It’s the way things are done. Death isn’t just for the family and a few friends to enjoy. You must realize that.”
Meghan, maintaining her pose of purity, smiled at Mrs Pearson and said nothing. She wondered if Mrs Pearson was going to explode as she continued to blabber and jabber, “Well … of course … we must respect your wishes … once you’ve finalized your decision of course … once you’ve come to your sen—” Mrs. Pearson paused. “Your initial suggestion, I must say, is most irregular.” Mrs. Pearson caught herself as if having just thought of something obvious, “Your in shock.” She exhaled a long, a very long, “I,” as her head began to bobble like one of those dolls people put in the back window of their cars, “… understand. I shan’t disturb you any further today. I … We’ll keep your initial thoughts between us … our secret alone.” Was there a hint of a wink? “No need to tell the Colonel. We can discuss it further once you’ve had more time.”
Meghan restricted herself to a Mona Lisa smile.
“Yes, I’ll come back when you’re settled … when you’ve come to …once things have settled a little. Emotions can be very hard to control at times like these. That is why you need people like us.”
Mrs Pearson turned to leave. She eyed the telephone receiver nestled under a cushion and appeared to suffer a palpitation. Turning back she said, “We could look after the children … if you need time.”
“The children are fine.”
Mrs Pearson walked up to the door and stopped as if she expected it to open automatically. Scratch hopped around her and, keeping both feet well out of her path, pulled it open to let Mrs. Pearson barge her way out even more furiously then she’d barged her way in.
The three of them moved to the window and watched Mrs Pearson military march down the front path, execute a sharp right turn and continue back to the Colonel keeping her chin up, eyes front and mouth in continuous monologue.
“I am surely going to hell,” laughed Meghan.
“Why?” asked Scratch.
She turned towards Jerry, “Staying for lunch?”
Jerry looked doubtful.
“I’ll cook,” said Scratch.
Jerry perked up at that and said, “Why not? Scratch can work his magic in the kitchen while we plan red-hot revolution over cooling coffee.”
Scratch headed to the kitchen. Jerry and Meghan relaxed on the couch. The telephone stayed off the hook.
“That,” said Jerry, sweeping up the remains of meatloaf, mashed potato and peas with the last of his roll, “was about as fine a Sunday lunch as I’ve had in a long time. Where’d you learn to cook like that, Scratch?”
“Just around,” said Scratch.
“Didn’t your father teach you?” asked Meghan.
“Not really,” said Scratch.
“Are we going to get a new daddy?” asked Rosie.
Meghan started to collect the plates in an effort to deflect the question.
“I’ll wash,” said Jerry, just before levering the roll into his mouth. “It’s the least I can do.”
“How about Uncle Jerry?” asked Rosie.
Meghan glanced at Jerry. The gasp rising from his gut ran into the roll on the way down and the pair of them log-jammed in his throat.
Slapping him hard on the back Meghan said, “Are you all right, Jerry?”
He swallowed hard, brought his fist up to his mouth and squeezed his eyes tight, a tear crept out of one corner. He coughed, wiped his eye with the back of his hand and whispered hoarsely, “Sorry, roll got stuck.”
“You wouldn’t have to do much,” said Rosie, turning matter of factly towards Jerry to explain. Though she had a child’s voice it could carry immense authority at times. “Just read with me and help me with the new words. Scratch and I do all the housework when Mommy is out and Mommy is out a lot. Sometimes you’ll have to take Scratch fishing but not very often.”
Jerry looked at Meghan, a plea for help filled his eyes.
“It’s not that simple,” said Meghan.
“Why?” asked Rosie, folding her napkin as if the matter were settled.
“Daddies do a lot of things.”
“Ours didn’t. He did some work around the house, but not very much. Most of the time he played with the radio, told jokes and funny stories.”
“I’m not sure my jokes and funny stories would be as good as your daddy’s,” said Jerry.
“Daddy’s jokes were terrible,” said Rosie. “Why did the caterpillar cross the road?”
In the silence, disturbed only by the gentle hum of the extractor fan over the stove, Meghan looked at Scratch, who looked back at Meghan, who looked at Jerry who looked back at Meghan, who looked at Scratch, who looked at Jerry, who looked back at Scratch, who looked at Meghan, who shrugged her shoulders in a wordless, don’t ask me.
“It was stuck to the chicken’s foot,” said Rosie.
“My jokes aren’t even that good,” said Jerry.
With a last throat clearing cough as he rose and started to collect the plates.
Later, after the dishes were stored and Jerry had gone, Meghan flopped on the sofa. Rosie nestled alongside, book in hand, and Scratch fiddled with the radio until he found something acceptable and set it to a whisper. He turned to the book case, pulled out a volume of the encyclopedia and sat down beside Meghan.
From where she sat Meghan could see the kitchen curtain wave almost imperceptibly as drowsy air from the desert crept in through the window, curled into the living room, and drifted over the three of them taking with it Meghan’s irritation with the world as it passed through the window behind them. Emotionally drained, she settled for peering over Scratch’s shoulder, “Anything interesting?”
“Just looking at the pictures,” said Scratch, in a low tone as he flicked through the pages slowly. He lingered over a plate of igneous rocks.
In a whisper barely audible over the radio he said, “I had a dream last night.”
“I was standing on a platform, waiting for a train. I think it was a train. I was wearing a wool coat, you know, like those ones you see in the pictures of refugee kids in Europe after the war. I was carrying a small suitcase. There was a faint breeze, fainter than tonight’s, but it was cold, so so cold, like outer space cold. I didn’t know where I was going.”
“When did you start to get so literary?”
“It’s been coming on for a while.”
They sat while Duke Ellington’s Band outlined the silence with The Swingers Get the Blues Too.
Closing the book Scratch asked, “What did Gramma Thornton mean about not having a son?”
“It’s a long story.”
Scratch gave Meghan a look that said, I’m not going anywhere.
“I don’t have the full story,” she surrendered, “only snatches of conversation from your father and grandfather. Neither of them were over forthcoming about it. I can guess quite a bit.”
“Did Dad do something bad?”
“Depends on your point of view. Your grandmother was … still is … obsessed with social standing. According to your grandfather, who admired her from a distance from the very moment he set eyes on her, she dedicated her youth to the cultivation of mind, form, and manner, learning foreign languages, moderating her tone, shaping her diction, inculcating music, paying the strictest attention to clothes, hairstyle, and, for some reason, the correct shade of pink for her fingernails.”
“Why?” asked Scratch looking at his own and then Meghan’s unadorned nails.
“Her ambition was to enter the highest echelon of Boston’s society populated by the Cabot, Lowell, Otis, Adams and all the other first families of the revolution, the crème de la crème as they say. Her family was wealthy, but a couple of rungs below the status she coveted. When your grandfather’s business prospects developed she suddenly began to return his attention. Time revealed her true ambition. Nevertheless he continued to hope he could win both her heart and mind.”
“Did he succeed?”
“No, and neither did she. When it became obvious that Grandpa’s connections weren’t sufficient to serve her purpose she turned away from him and poured all her attention onto your father.”
“She left grandpa?”
“Only in spirit, society dictated the continuation of the matrimonial facade —”
“— the image of a happy marriage.”
“It got worse. Everything she’d subjected herself to in her youth she inflicted twice over and more onto your father. She was hell-bent on turning him into a pillar of polite society and a suitable candidate for marriage into the uppermost crust of society. She made his childhood and adolescence utterly miserable.”
“She made daddy where pink fingernail polish?” asked Rosie.
“You’re supposed to be asleep,” said Meghan.
“You’re supposed to talk in a way that I’m not supposed to hear,” said Rosie, nuzzling into her mother’s side to return to sleep, or at least to continue the pretense.
Continuing much more quietly Megan said, “She never forgave him for joining the army straight out of high school. There was no patriotism involved on your father’s part, or very little, he simply needed to escape. It could have just as easily been the circus. Then, while he was in the army, just after he started pilot training he committed the most unforgivable act possible.”
“What was that?” asked Scratch.
“He married a coal miner’s daughter. Your grandmother has never acknowledged my existence.”
“What did Granddad say?” asked Scratch.
“Your grandfather labored under the illusion that his son should do whatever he wanted with his life. The only thing that mattered was that he should be happy.”
“That’s what Dad keeps saying to me.”
“Now you know why. When he proposed to me he swore an oath that he would never bully his children the way his mother bullied him.”
Soft and dreamy, Rosie asked, “Is Grandma Thornton bad?”
“That’s hard to say,” said Meghan. “She looks at things in a certain way.”
Rosie rolled deeper into Meghan’s side, “Will she live happily ever after?”
Meghan gazed down at Rosie tucked snuggly in her arm, “I don’t know.”
“Will we live happily ever after?” asked Rosie.
“What do you think?”
Rosie opened an eye and looked at Meghan accusingly, “You said I should never answer a question with a question.”
Chastened Meghan gave Rosie a flat smile, “Yes, I think we will live happily ever after.”
“That’s better,” said Rosie and, seemingly, returned to the land of dreams.
Meghan kept both children out of school the following week. She left Scratch, nominally at least, in charge of the house while she attended to the administrative details of death. When she called upon Colonel Pearson on Monday morning the Executive Officer appeared to be more than happy to go along with Meghan’s plans. Being the principle pencil-pusher on the base he had been the primary target of Jack’s scorn. The prospect of not having to pay tribute to the biggest thorn in his backside must have been too good to resist. Even though, as Jack often said, he was a prize jerk Meghan found herself feeling somewhat sorry for the man when she thought of him returning home to deliver the news to Mrs. Pearson. No one deserved that fate.
The Colonel assigned Lieutenant Simpleton, a small-minded squinty-eyed well-born idiot who was sure to go far, to arrange the details of separating the family from Air Force Life.
Jerry offered her his quarters as a bolt-hole where Meghan could organize the family’s future while avoiding interruptions from the steady trickle of well-wishers, busy bodies and parasites that rolled up to the house or telephoned. She felt guilty about leaving the children on their own but the matter of moving on was, in her mind, exceedingly urgent. Coming home to a tidy house filled with the aroma of a welcoming dinner evaporated her concern and led to her discovering that, whenever she was away, Scratch had been the primary cook in the house for a very long time.
Sitting around the table after dinner the kids retold the highlights of the day. How they repelled boarders at the front door and took turns beating back forays from the telephone. Scratch, initially, had suggested disconnecting both the front door bell and the telephone, but Rosie rejected the idea saying she was not going to be like Grandma. Instead the pair of them created the legal firm Cabot, Otis, Adams and Lowell, C.O.A & L. for short, who now dealt with all matters concerning the estate of the late Mr. Thornton, and played a kind of verbal leapfrog as they competed with each other over who could bamboozle better.
The mantle of maturity, donned with such apparent ease by both children, made it easier for Meghan to introduce the question as to what they should do with Jack. Boston was out. Being military nomads the family never had a place they could truly call home. After a short debate they arrived at a general consensus. Wherever they went Jack would come with them.
With the help of Jerry, and a couple of other pilots the family gathered the most treasured possessions together and disposed of everything lacking practical or sentimental value. Jerry agreed to store a few things where the final decision was proving difficult.
On the day of the funeral Meghan got the kids ready. Jerry dropped by in a borrowed station wagon and drove the family to Bakersfield. Waiting for them at the crematorium were Jack’s operational commander and a half-dozen other pilots along with their families. A couple of former colleagues, ex-pilots confined to wheelchairs, traveled considerable distances to be there.
The service, less a funeral and more a commemoration, was more matter of fact than emotional. Jack’s operational commander spoke with an eloquence that only came from shared experiences. One of the wheel-chaired pilots told a few ribald, though mostly tasteful, tales painting half smiles on faces and generating the odd snicker. Finally Jerry stood up, strode to the dais and recited:
Sonnet for a Vanishing Pirate
Own thy own heartbeat. Follow not the crowd,
raise yourself up, above man’s petty lies.
Face cold eternity with head unbowed.
One look sufficient, see into God’s eyes.
While the muddle below shapes their own truth,
Soar into the air to view the full plan.
The purpose not what we’re told in our youth.
Creation’s for all and not just for man.
Intensity seized, of greatest import.
No weeping, no crying, no sobs, no tears.
Though time with those dearest, may be cut short,
cherish each moment. Count not on the years.
Free thinking and brave and undisciplined,
he’s mounted the storm and walks on the wind.
After the ceremony everyone headed back to Jerry’s for something to eat and a few drinks. Scratch and Rosie rushed to start carrying around trays, but were stopped by Jack’s commanding officer. He insisted on being the sole provider of service throughout until his own men told him, quite sharply, to sit down and have a drink. Meghan, as far as she could remember, managed to speak to everyone. From the corner of her eye she noted that Scratch managed to sneak a few glasses of beer. Rosie engaged one of the wheel-chaired pilots in deep conversation which he appeared to enjoy immensely.