Monday, August 10, 2009

The Passing of a Good Man

I was reading the new Jeffrey Deaver novel, Broken Window, about online data retrieval, when I heard a knock on the door.

Who is it? I yelled from my downstairs bed.

Nancy Myers, came the voice.

I went upstairs and there she was standing outside the screen door in her shorts and holding some sort of a vine or flower.

Her husband Charlie, had died in a nursing home, at age 81, his mind gone.

My voice shook with sorrow as I said how sorry I was and what a wonderful neighbor he was. That man could do anything with his hands - he'd been a foreman at the nearby Procter and Gamble. He and I used to sit on his front porch and we'd reminiscence, mostly about his long life and his early years, how he met Nan, how he saw her and said, That's the girl I wanna marry, and on and on.

He'd told me about his mean abusive father who made of Charlie his whipping boy but Charlie himself hadn't a mean bone in his body. He followed the stock market and when his mind was beginning to go told me he was worth millions. His wife just shook her head over that.

His millions tho were in the good deeds he did.

The viewing was at 10 a.m. this morning. I wore a dress to keep cool in, today was the hottest day of the year. The little church was b'ful. Husband-and-wife pastors. They wore fancy garments and kept changing vestments during the ceremony.

They offered a strange way of grieving, very different from my own Jewish people, similar to my ex-husband's funeral in March. Seems like they have a real hard time accepting death. Just when they remind the audience that Charlie has passed away they say things like But do not fear for he has gone directly to heaven, you shall see him again if you believe.

This went on and on for a good half hour. Finally the pastor changed into some new clothes and invited us to come up to take the Eucharist or the wafer IF we had been baptized.

I was trying to stick it out. Honest I was. I sat in the very last row so I could bolt at any time. During the singing of a hymn which must've lasted a whole 10 minutes, I was drawn to the open window and beautiful sunny day.

Ruthie, I said to myself. You sit in your pew and do not DARE to get up to look out the window. Actually, we had risen to sing the hymn.

I walked slowly to the window. I knew I was gonna see something spectacular. I just knew it.

A fat robin sat on the lawn and - look! - darting off to my left and onto the black-eyed susans was a tiny goldfinch. He was very busy poking his nose in all the black-eyed susans. Two verses, now three, went by while that goldfinch satisfied himself.

I walked back to my place in the pew and was spotted by the usher who was no mere churchman but indeed was one of the undertakers. He handed me a brochure I am the redemption. I nodded in thanks and mumbled the words of a devoted incorrigible unbeliever curmudgeon to myself.

Charlie looked very well in the coffin. The hands give it away that you're dead. They were in an awkward position like he was just about to crack his knuckles. I was finding it hard to sit still so I said to myself, Wouldn't it be funny if he strode out of his coffin and with huge giant steps walked all over the people - just bumping along as if in flight - and sat down beside me.

I pretended to see him coming and mentally moved my sunglasses and little stash of papers they give you - plus Charlie's photo on this newsprint-like paper - away from my seat so he could sit down next to me.

I pretended we were back home on Cowbell Road sitting at the top of his porch in those swan chairs discussing the meaning of life.

It you know what it is, please write.


  1. love, live, and laugh... can only help you get through whatever life throws at you....

  2. you are certainly correct, ms. toohey, and you and dan both embody those very same values. one of my favorite quotes is from the bible: This is the day the lord hath made. Rejoice and be glad in it.

  3. thanks.. now I have the song I used to sing in Mass in grade school in my head.... This is the day the lord hath made. Rejoice and be glad in it.

  4. how cool is that?!!! hope you & the boyz are keeping cool today. i've locked myself in w/the a/c full blast. i wanna lend you guys the jeffrey deaver book...tres exciting!