To Attend a (Black) Funeral

Funeral Procession by Ellis Wilson

I attended my uncle’s funeral when I was about 14 or 15. It’s the only funeral I’ve attended since. I’m 34.

Some relatives? came from California? to my grandparent’s house.

The woman was tall and very skinny and the color of burnt chocolate. She chain-smoked in the car in the funeral procession. She looked at me in the back through the rear view mirror with eyes that were yellow where the white should have been every time I answered her questions? She walked in dramatic, lunging strides to the pulpit behind my uncle’s casket and accepted the microphone. She reminded me of a black Cruella De Vil.

It was weird because she had a daughter who was overweight with a Jheri Curl and the color of toasted almonds. They blended in looking almost nothing alike like most people on my maternal side since many of my cousins had different mothers and fathers, but, then again, didn’t really look like their birth mothers and fathers either? I remember she had a purple dress because some members of my family called her Barney.

I don’t remember where they were from or if they were even relatives. They knew my grandmother like everybody seemed to know my grandmother, and stayed at the house like everybody stayed at the house. If you come from a large Black family, you tend toward the possibility that anybody black in the community is a family member. If you come from a large family, almost everybody is represented.

The Jokester who is constantly telling jokes. He burps loudly then immediately blows in your face. He calls Elnora, your grandmother, “E Double”, as in the nickname of Eric Sermon from the old rap group EPMD.

The What Happened? aunt, she used to be the sharpest and best-dressed and now her entire grill is white and she can’t talk because she sometimes likes to chew flour.

The Not Quite Right cousin who wears bright red lipstick and goes around offering everyone gum.

The Oddity that nobody quite understands currently ‘Lōc’d Out’ with a pair of black Tone Lōc shades in a pew all by himself.

The Unallowed in the house.

The Ones that Bring Back Even Weirder, Crazier People in the form of in-laws.

The Wild Child shot and/or stabbed up occasional crack head cousin now delirious with grief and eulogizing our uncle on the mic as a real ‘O.G.’

I didn’t really know my uncle. He was the type that I remembered as always laughing and merry, but maybe that was because he was known as the glug-glug womanizing one. The type we called by a nickname that we thought was his real name until we were like 18 and then, oh my god! I can’t believe that’s not his real name! Neil?! He doesn’t even look like a Neil!

In fact, when we went up to look at him in the casket, I thought: Who dat? His face was bloated and he was wearing a suit. He didn’t even look like my real-live uncle.

I didn’t really know my uncle but he was my mother’s brother and 1 out of 2 boys out of 7 kids. He had 2 boys from a generation older than me who would never really recover from his passing, and a daughter from a generation younger than me who didn’t really understand a gone dad yet. Apparently, he had come home in the wee hours of the morning and had suddenly collapsed, and it was over just like that.

I sat in the pew next to my older cousin ‘Weeble’ whose real name was Naomi but whose real name was Weeble because, really, what the fuck is a Naomi? I cried suddenly because the whole thing was grievous and she hugged me to her just as suddenly and said ‘I know’. She hurriedly wiped a tear from her own face. She bounced her months-old daughter up and down, but the baby was generally fretful and at one point my grandmother yelled: get that baby outta here!

My grandparents were from the 1920s from Virginia and Tennessee, married 50 years. They’d bought the 3-floor house ages ago. They sat in a pew in back of us, surrounded by us, from a different time, a different place.

My grandfather made wine from the backyard, deep dish apple pie, cut cantaloupe slices into smiles and had a Cadillac. He was the type to watch baseball all day, not talk much and walk by ringing phones.

My grandmother was the type to be a matriarch. She raised her kids, her kids with her grand kids, grand kids, because her kids couldn’t do it, wouldn’t do it, drugs, all kindsa shit. I lived with her with my mom and aunt and cousin as a kid then alone for about 5 years from 11–16. She was the type to wear skirts all the time, but to talk loud and sometimes vulgarly and laugh with her belly uproariously. To flatulate audibly in public to my utter anger and horror, and to go behind a tree and roll down her knee-highs to her ankles as I kept a nervous look-out holding her purse. Can’t hold it in baby, she’d say. It’s unhealthy. She’d bought me my first computer and paid for my driving lessons. Where’s grandma’s kisses? She’d say to her grand kids.

She was the type who you didn’t know held everything together until she was gone and everything fell apart. Like, wow, that’s foul, yo, never knew you felt that way about me as your own blood. How you’d found out that my uncle wasn’t really my grandfather’s child. That this would be 1 out of 2 funerals of my grandmother’s children, having already lost all of her brothers and sisters. How my older cousin she also raised came by the house less and less because he didn’t want to see how my grandparents were aging. How I wish that I would’ve asked more questions about who they were, carried some of their weight instead of being a weight but what did I know. That maybe a funeral really was for the death of everyone, a whole generation lost.

I don’t know where I heard it, but my grandmother once said, “I just prayed that the Lord would take me somewhere else that day, and he did. I don’t remember my son’s funeral.”