The burial and meal, noon Saturday
After the funeral, I pulled my car directly behind the family hearse for the drive from Calhoun, Ky., to Sacramento, Ky., for my father’s burial.
It was a 10-mile trip that included a swing through Semiway, a hamlet in our county where I think my dad lived after returning home from Georgia, where he lived throughout my entire childhood.
Upon arrival at the cemetery, I wondered if the skunk that had fallen into Dad’s grave had been disposed of.
“Uncle Dave would think that’s hilarious,” Tawna told me at the funeral home.
Then I definitely got his sense of humor, because I immediately filed that away in the Funny Shit You Can’t Make Up part of my brain.
It appeared the scene was skunk-free, and I immediately started to wonder two things as I climbed the small hill to Dad’s grave: Would I turn my ankle in these damn heels, and where should I sit/stand when I get there?
Uncle Charlie answered both of those questions about halfway up the hill when he took me by the arm for the rest of the walk and guided me to the Reserved for Family section under the tent by the grave.
The graveside ceremony was short and somber, including a roll call over the prison guards’ radios in which officers answered “present” until they called out Dad’s badge number.
Some of the guards standing behind the tent started sobbing softly, and I so wished I had known this man whom everyone loved so much.
Afterward, the church across the street had a potluck dinner prepared, so I went.
I filled my plate with comfort food … if not now, when? … and I sat beside 6-year-old Chloe, one of my brother’s two children. We talked about her starting school in two days and her loose tooth, and I wondered if I’ll get the pleasure of more of these wonderful conversations.
A friend of Luke’s was sitting near us, and he introduced her to me.
“Are you two related?” she asked.
Luke and I smiled at each other.
“You could say that,” we both answered.
“We have to come up with an answer for that now,” he said to me.
“You could just say I’m Misty. That’s the answer I gave when someone asked who I was at the funeral home,” I told him.
“Misty is Dad’s estranged daughter,” he told his friend.
I’ve been called strange, but never estranged. It worked, I guess.
|Luke and me.|
Near the food table, Tawna was just getting the chance to eat, so I stood and talked with her a minute.
“Your dad seems very overwhelmed by all this,” I told her.
“He is. We all are. We never knew it was true,” she said. “When you approached me about it our freshman year of high school, I went home and asked, and they asked Uncle Dave, and he said it wasn’t true.”
Wow. Punch in the gut.
“Well, that’s all you could do, Tawna,” I told her. “And in all honesty, if I had asked my uncle a question like that, I’d have no choice but to believe his answer. I don’t blame you.”
And I don’t. Here’s a family that had just lost a man they loved, and lost all chances to ask him any questions after being blindsided with a long-lost daughter who showed up at the funeral.
My heart ached for them. None more so than for Uncle Charlie.
After Luke and I hugged, took pictures together on each of our cell phones and vowed that this is the beginning, not the end, Uncle Charlie walked over and sat next to me.
“I want you to come around, be part of the family,” he told me, not realizing I live in Michigan now.
I vowed I’ll stay in touch and swing by at the holidays so they can get to know my son, a chance my dad will never have.
“Did your mom ever marry?” he asked.
“No. She always worked two and three jobs, and honestly, she never had time to really date,” I explained. “We never got any money from Dad, and the one time we asked for help, he said he couldn’t.”
The look on Charlie’s face broke my heart.
“I didn’t say that to hurt you,” I said. “I’m just explaining how it was.”
“I know,” he said. “But I am so sorry. On behalf of the whole family, I’m sorry.”
We talked a little more, and as I prepared to leave, Charlie told me he was so glad I had come down for the funeral.
“Thank you for that. I’m glad I came,” I said. “My uncle had warned me that he didn’t think I should, because it would just ‘stir up shit.’”
“You tell your uncle that the only thing you did was come down here and gain a new uncle,” he said.
Indeed, I will.