Last night, in the midst of the madness that is Christmas dinner for 17 people, my younger brother took me aside and asked me to meet him for coffee this morning at 9:00.
I drank coffee after Christmas dinner--very strong and a lot of it. So I woke up this morning at about 2:00 a.m., and didn't get back to sleep for a long time. Then I re-awoke at 8:45. I got dressed in a hurry and rushed out to meet my brother at his hotel.
When I got there, my older brother was waiting with him. And they told the hostess that our table for two needed to be a table for five. Apparently my sisters were joining us, too.
Finally everyone showed up. Some of us negotiated the buffet; others ordered a la carte. Once everyone was done eating, my sister pulled a big Federal Express envelope out. I thought it was a another last minute Christmas gift that had shown up late. It turned out to be the documents regarding the settlement of my father's estate. The attorneys needed our signatures and banking information. So I listened to the explanation, read through the papers, and signed the documents.
So that was a surprise. Morning coffee turned into a business meeting.
There was another surprise. I found out my brothers and sisters had decided to scatter Daddy's ashes off a bridge into a harbor that leads into the Atlantic ocean. So we got into our coats, and because it had started raining, those of us who had umbrellas got them out. The rest of us huddled under the hoods of our coats.
We walked down to the middle of the bridge. A couple of us tested the direction of the wind. The eldest held the box while the youngest took out a knife and slit off the outer packaging. Inside there was a glossy dark green cardboard box. Inside the green box was a plastic bag of ashes. They were a very light, almost pearly gray color. My brother slit open the bag and my sister got ready to start scattering them.
Someone said "Should we say something?" Someone else suggested the Lord's Prayer. I started reciting it, even though one of us mentioned it wouldn't have meant anything to Daddy. This was probably true; my father would fill in for the organist at church, but as far as I can tell, he was an atheist--one of the rare ones who simply doesn't discuss religion. I suppose I recited the Lord's Prayer for myself.
Then someone suggested we sing something. I knew better than to suggest a hymn. Our family has always been big on gathering around the piano to sing. My father was a gifted musician and was ready to accompany singers at the drop of the hat. We grew up singing Gershwin, Porter--all the standards--as well as the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals and the scores of Gypsy, Fiorello, and Guys and Dolls.
One of the things we always sang--in the increasingly rare occasions where we were all together--was the score to Guys and Dolls. "Adelaide's Lament" was a favorite. Today one of us started singing the "Fugue for Tin Horns." "I got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere ..." Everyone else joined in. (Fittingly enough, there is a horse named "Epitaph.")
Our singing faltered a bit, and I said "We're missing our accompanist."
My sister started scattering the ashes. The ashes poured out of the bag and caught the wind. Then they took flight, spreading in the breeze like plumes of smoke, swirling down towards the ocean and into the water. We gazed down at the water until the current cleared. Then we each bid farewell to our father. We all hugged each other and walked back to our cars.
When I looked at my siblings' faces, it was impossible to tell where the tears ended and the rain began.