Monday, February 25, 2013

The Funeral of Anthony (Junior) Hartfield

            Here I was holding my sister's hand as the wail of tears envelope the room. In front of us resting peacefully in a coffin was her oldest son Junior. Looking at my sister I thought she would be one of the collective of people crying but she had a calm composure that radiated strength. It was a surreal moment for me as I was home with my last visit being two years ago. Only just arriving in the state I had planned to see family but not in the dead of winter and definitely not for this occasion. I was planning to come in the summer and make up for missing out on seeing relatives as usually when I came in it was for a short length and difficult to see everyone. But now I didn’t have an excuse as most of us were in attendance, here to say our goodbyes.  
            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.                  
            One thing for certain all the family was there except for our older brother Raymond. I'm sure he had his own reasons but as I joked if there was a casino machine he would have been there. It would have been nice for us all to come together but he must have had his own reasons. Truths of the matter some people simply don’t like funerals. They want to remember a person a certain way and not have it construed by seeing them in a casket. So as far as siblings in attendance it was I, my younger sister Sade and the sister beneath me Donna. Donna had put most of the funeral arrangements together and with all the stress she went through to make it happen I thought for sure she was going to be bald like me. I made a reminder to let her know that all her hard work was appreciated and was very admirable in the short time it took to make it happen.
            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.
            A large group of people started to line up and give condolence to Emily who was sitting next to me. Each one greeted her with kind words followed by a hug. It was then Emily leaned over to me and questioned what someone was wearing. That was all it took for us to both critique the clothes that some had on. It was done in a playful way and nothing was said mean-spirited but it was good to see her mood. It was during that time I noticed the woman in the sweat suit. Although Emily was being comforted by others, for myself the Joan Rivers come out in me and ask myself what was she wearing?
            As the people were hugging her a white gentleman came over and leaning to Emily gave her a hug. The only reason I mention this was because when he hugged her it was like they were zapped with a freeze ray. They both didn't move as he hugged and hugged and hugged and hugged. At one point I thought they had feel asleep as both didn't move a muscle or make a sound. Finally when it seemed like he came up for air I gave a look to my sister to make sure she was okay. I also had this look of, “is there something I don’t know’. Seeing the tears in her eyes I realized this man was special and she needed he hug. Later after laughing with Emily learning he was the basketball coach of Anthony.
            As the funeral went on the tears got louder. Out of the wails filling the chamber Martha Jane came back to life when she asked, "Is it over yet?" I prayed she wouldn’t have a Martha fit this time when we told her that it was just beginning. I knew it wasn’t because she didn’t want to be there but as I stated before, with the strokes she had some of her cognitive skills had also disappeared. Basically she was not longer a political correct person. In fact not only was she not but I believe she literally got kicked out of all if not most of the nursing homes based on her raising hell with the residents and nurses. As a child of segregation she had no qualms of calling white people ‘crackers’ and being that Minnesota was majority white she did a lot of ‘cracker’ calling. Thank God for assisted living care. Now she could have her own civil rights march in her place without offending anyone. In the moment telling her no it wasn’t over she went back to looking straight ahead hidden behind her glasses. I almost wanted to say to her,” I’ll let you know when there's a commercial break'"
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?
            She continued. "I know that when I met Anthony he gave me a compliment. You see people think I'm younger than what I look because of my age. I get that a lot. And ladies we need more young men like Anthony because he's such a gentleman. He was there to see my daughter. He was outside and let me tell you even though it had snowed he shoveled a path for me. And even though I was wearing a short short dress, you know shorter than normal, I really appreciated it. When I was ready to go to the car I put on my coat that was shorter than my dress. And with my high heels on he helped me by taking my hand."
            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.
            Looking over at Emily she was still that tower of strength. Although she softly cried I knew the ocean of tears were deep inside and would be coming. I knew that she would have her Florida Evans moment and when all the people in the room have went back to their lives and the quietness had crept in, she would be crashing that punch bowl to the ground and she may not be saying ‘Damn, damn, damn’ but probably a simple ‘Why’. I just hope whenever the moment comes, if I’m not there, she has people around her for support.
            After saying the final goodbyes and standing in the cold bitter winter air at the cemetery there was no laughter but only tears as this will be the final goodbye. As someone sang, Eye on the Sparrow, it became clear why many didn’t like the song. Not because of the song itself but because it captured such a sad moment. With the final words of the preacher a wind went through the gathered crowd causing everyone to move closer. I believe it was Anthony knowing he had brought us together and whether it was laughter or tears we were all in union that day to honor his memory. He would be so impressed at all the people who he affected and loved him dearly. He would have been so proud to have all his family and friend meet each other and realized the connection we all had because of Anthony that in fact we weren’t strangers after all.
            As I watched the people escape the cold air and the cars drive off one by one, I’m reminded of the young kid with a big smile who loved to laugh. And knowing there were elements of his service where we had the opportunity to laugh I know he would have loved it. I remember as a child he would always try to get my sister Emily to smile and laugh and all the times he tried he would be successful. And yes even on this sad day he was able to get his ma to smile and laugh and I was lucky to share in it. And I’m sure he would want us to continue in his name to greet life with a smile and to laugh. And equally we would want him to know that on this day we never said goodbye as we will always and forever have him in our hearts.

Ending this story Junior, but never my love- Uncle Dray   

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love you big bro!!!!!