Monday, August 12, 2013

Carry Me Home

June 22, 2013

Our thoughts were too fuzzy to realize this at first, but we wouldn’t have been very nice if we woke the funeral director up at 3 am Sunday morning to collect Grandpa. Yes, collect.

I am from very proud Scottish ancestry, descended from the Wallace clan. I can pinch a penny till it screams, and I come by that trait very honestly. When Grandma died, it cost several thousand dollars to fly her back to Wisconsin for burial from California. That was fine at the time, but now we were only about 12 ½ hours from Grandpa's final resting place. Why pay a large fee for airfare—and a hearse to drive him clear from Minneapolis to Bethel—when we could drive him ourselves for about $700?

As long as the casket was tarped, it could even have gone in the back of a pickup or on a flatbed trailer. Fortunately, by the time we needed to worry about it, Jack had an enclosed cargo trailer that he uses for carrying all his tools and equipment to job sites. With that, all we needed was a permit to transport Grandpa across state lines, and we were good to go.

As the details began to fall into place, we realized that, for the sake of the funeral director, we’d need to pick Grandpa up late on Sabbath. (Sundown is well after 9pm in the summertime.) Hot on the heels of that realization was the one that we wouldn’t be able to just lie around and sleep all night while poor Grandpa sat out in the driveway. Even though he wouldn’t know it, we sure would. It didn't feel respectful, somehow.

Around 4pm, Jack, Dad, Jack's brother, and Caleb went to Plentywood for the all-important loading. About 7:30 they returned, a sad blue quilt-covered box in the back. The rest of us had gotten our stuff ready the day before, so we wouldn’t have to wait around long. While the kids were taking a last pitstop, my young niece eyed the closed trailer. “I don’t like dead people,” she whisperingly confided.

The first stretch was road construction. We felt every bump and jostle with acute clarity. “Sorry Grandpa,” Jack called again and again, of course for our sake rather than Grandpa’s. He had lots to say about what an honor it was to transport our beloved grandfather, and how it didn’t bother him at all to carry him, but I noticed that EVERY SINGLE TIME WE STOPPED it was my privilege to open the back and make sure that, ahem, nothing had shifted. It was only mildly nerve-wracking at the time—some of those bumps were pretty bad, after all—but apparently my subconscious had a few issues. About two weeks later, I had a nightmare in which the funeral guys accidentally spilled him out onto the railroad tracks. In my dream, as they frantically tried to put him back before anyone noticed, I was very glad that it wasn’t my fault!

Long about 3am, we blew a tire. It ripped the whole fender away while it was at it. We’d been creeping along in the pouring thunderstorms for hours, and through God’s mercy our tire went out during a brief lull. I helped Jack jack up the trailer and change onto the spare, checked our cargo yet again, and got back in just as the heavens re-opened and began to dump rain. At the time I didn’t take any pictures, not exactly being in the mood to commemorate being stuck beside the deserted highway with a body in the back, but now that my sense of humor has returned, I wish I had. I know Grandpa would have had a good laugh. Not even just a plain laugh, but an outright chortle. "Oh-hohohohohohooooooo!"

The next morning, when Jack wound down, it was my turn to have a go at it. Passing through Minneapolis, I hit a rather sizable pothole. BOOM! “Sorry Grandpa,” it was my turn to call out, as Jack jerked suddenly awake. You would think Jack had never hit any giant potholes at all, never mind BLOWING A TIRE, to hear him tease me. I was a trifle more nervous than usual at the next check, I will admit, but the fellas had done a good job fastening our cargo, and it remained right where we left it.

It was a huge relief to finally arrive at the funeral home in Marshfield, and leave Grandpa in their skilled care. And they were very good, too, despite the whole railroad dream thingy later.

Totally drained, we headed for Bethel, less than 15 miles away. When we got to the easterly turn, an orange sign proclaimed, “Bridge Out 9 miles”. Not to worry, I told Jack. Nine miles away was just barely this side of Arpin, and Bethel was only a few miles ahead. So we turned down the road. Popping over the first hill, we discovered that instead of nine miles, it should have read POINT nine miles. We gingerly turned the now-empty trailer around, and detoured to our destination.

On this trip, we stayed with my cousine, Eldine, and his wife, Margie. (Next trip, we’ll be staying with another cousin, Patrick.) Their hospitality was a welcome relief after the grueling trip, with storm after storm slowing us to 45 mph, and often even less than that. Do you know how long it takes to drive to Wisconsin at 45 mph? I hope not. I wish I didn’t.

We visited incessantly, right up untzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

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