In a quiet moment I flash backed to the phone call that led me here. It was the message my sister left on my phone. Through her sobbing she was able to tell me that Anthony who most of called Junior was visiting his father when he was shot by someone who was looking for the father. At that moment when you hear something like that all the sounds around you go mute and all you hear is the replay of the message left. It was impossible I told myself. Junior was only 20 and was in college. He wasn't the usual statistic fell by a gun shot. He was a young man everyone loved and now we were all crammed in one room to say goodbye.
I had missed out on the last nine years of his life with my move to New York City. The times I had come to visit we were not able to connect and I take the blame for that as you always assume people will be around the next time. We see someone’s life through Facebook and substitute their postings with the face to face contact. I'm usually against communicating through social media but in this case I was able to live vicariously through Facebook and track what he was doing. From the standing room crowd I could tell he was fortunate to have so many there for him in his real life. I learned that nothing will be able to replace the value of looking someone in the eye and expressing how you feeling about them. Damn you Facebook.
As a big brother I wished I could do more for my little sister at this time but I think just being there meant a lot. It was like a family reunion as relatives I hadn't seen in years were there. Cousins I grew up with but then suddenly disappeared were there. All around was the next generation of babies of kin that I was meeting for the first time. In my head I’m having conversations with myself as I tell myself how I remembered when they wasn’t even old enough to drive and now they’re grown with kids. It’s amazing the swiftness of time. For many the last time I saw them they had yet reached the age of ten. There were many moments of ‘Can You Guess Who I Am’. In particular I played this game with a dear aunt who I hadn’t seen in 15 years as she looked at me and I looked at her and she looked at me and finally through our fog we remembered who each one was. The family was there in force on the cold day, there for my sister and her family.
The one thing that worried me was how was my sister going to recover from this? Unknown too many in the room this was the second child she had lost. She had five in all. The oldest being Junior and tragically at three months she lost one of her twins who's young body was not able to fend off a winter's flu. Even back then it was hard as it’s often said a parent should never have to bury their child and here she had to do it again. With what she already endured you can understand why I was wondering how this was going to affect her. I simply knew for myself it would be something that would be difficult for me. I hoped by seeing all the people in the standing room only service she wouldn’t have to suffer alone.
As the service began the family was instructed to sit in the front row. There reserved seats for family and in particular for one important person. The matriarch of the family, there was my ma Martha McGhee. Now if you ever wanted to see a walking tornado you had to look no further than Miss McGhee or as others called her Martha Jane. You know that phrase ‘mama don't take no mess’ I think that phrase was created for my ma. She was a resourceful lady who raised all five us with the best of her abilities. As a single mother she would let folks know that she was able to take of hers and you just worry about yours. She was a tower of strength. I can honestly say we were raised old school style by the end of a switch. But it was never abusive and being that none of us were criminals you can say it worked. Yet as she was wheeled into the room in her wheelchair you could tell that years of bad health which included several strokes had taken their toll.
On that day it was hard to see the fire in her eyes because of the sunglasses she was wearing. They were similar to the ones that Steve Wonder wore. Now if she was going to break into Superstition then that would have been something. But like us she took her place next to me and my sister. Not knowing if she was fully awake I was stunned when she spoke "I need a cigarette." Trying to tell her that she would have to wait to have a cigarette was a careful road as usually when you told Martha ‘no’ she usually followed it with a long line of cursive. So since I was the big brother it was my job to tell her no. Maybe it was because of the funeral and the moment we were in that she didn't argue. I guess things were going to be okay.
At one point during the service they asked for only six people to give personal reflections of Anthony. Looking at the stream of people lining up I saw at the end of the line that one woman who wore the sweat suit. Looking closely at her she looked to be in her forties. She almost looked as if she was at home watching Maury Povich and was reminded that Anthony’s funeral was happening. Her hair was very different from all the other ladies in attendance. Where you could see they took time and consideration with theirs, for her it looked like you just grabbed it all in one hand and snapped a rubber band at the end of it. But this was a funeral and not a fashion show and it was nice for her to come and show her respects. Who was I to judge as each one said something nice and the woman in sweats came on last. My spider sense told me this wasn't going to go well and then she opened her mouth.
She began with," I only met Anthony a week before his demise" At first I couldn't believe she said demise then I wondered what the word was and quickly realizing that she only knew him a week and showing her respect in a sweat suit affirmed to me that this wasn't going to be good. And she used the word demise. Who uses that word?
At that point I'm thinking to myself this must be the comedy part. Maybe she was hired to break up the sadness. I was even waiting for a clown with a cane to come dancing on the stage and drag her away. As I'm digesting everything this woman put out mama who had been quiet suddenly let her head fall back with her mouth open. Then her left arm which was on her lap fell to her side. In my mind I'm asking how can you fall asleep at a funeral?!
At this point the woman has left the podium and mind you she had talked about Anthony coming to see her daughter but where was her daughter and before digesting that the pastor took her place so my chance at a rebuttal to her crazy speech was lost. Looking back at ma she still has her head tilted back. Before trying to wake her up a crazy thought flashed in my head thinking she may have left us as well. If so perhaps we can get a discount if we roll her up and have the pastor say some kind words about her.
Showing she wasn't ready she let out a small sigh which was my cue to tap her. Bringing her head down and safely behind her glasses she mumbled,” Is it over? I want a cigarette."
With my best therapeutic skill and without causing a scene I directed her attention back to the front where the pastor was giving his sermon.
As we both put our attention on the pastor and getting lost in his words I felt my eye twitch again. This time on the pastor. Not to be too hard in judging but his sermon was pretty much a condensed reflection of what everyone before him said. He talked about Anthony's smile, his personality and his love of basketball. Then he seemed to have no more words to plagiarize as he started to talk about gun control and other things that didn't have anything to do with Anthony. At one point he asked the congregation to raise their hands if they need saving and proceeds to tell them he couldn't do it on that day but to come to his church next Sunday to get part two of being saved. It reminded me of the food samplers at Costco who hand out samples but if you like what you tasted you have to buy the full product. So there is a commercial break after all! I guess ma can have that cigarette.