Sadly, one generation after her death, no one will know she ever existed. Same is true for anyone, unless fame keeps the dead’s proverbial stone rolled away, like a president or an actor, where portraits, stories, or accomplishments are revisited.
The blanket of flowers on top of Mary Francis’ casket were bought by her children and were multi-colored lilies with a light, sweet scent, and her daughter broke up a little in reading a special poem, a poem made famous in a country song and written by one of her music students who, once graduated, jetted from the struggling town and never looked back. The teacher clung to her student’s memory like a first kiss. Mary Francis enjoyed her affiliation with someone beyond herself who’d made it in show business and the affiliation gave her false sense of strength and worthiness.
The town, too, had latched on to a fledgling actor and a one hit wonder and tried to bring tourism that didn’t come. They had tried to become like Radiator Springs, the fictional town along Route 66 in the film Cars with its race car character Lightning McQueen. The town’s leadership was an oxymoron because they believed in a sound bite, a concocted brand, and a commercial that never quite worked or elevated them.
The church wasn’t filled for Mary Francis’ celebration, just like it was on most Sundays, and the majority of funeral goers were within ten or twenty years of meeting a similar fate: a fall that broke a hip; the move to a skilled care/rehabilitation facility that got every penny from insurance and government it could and then tapped into Mary Francis’ life savings in the name of Hippocrates; the multiple medications no one reviewed to see if she needed them or how they were interacting together; a few visitors each week, mostly family, who asked, “Are they treating you okay?” and then went on to talk about their busy lives when Mary Francis wasn’t listening because she was in her childhood home remembering the snow on the mountain, her kitten, her dolls, and her mother who made sugar cookies with a dollop of chocolate in the center; and the slow process of slipping away when an organ stops working and the body shuts down.
Of course, Mary Francis stopped eating, took in sips of water, munched on ice chips, and willed herself into the hereafter, but no one would label her decision a suicide. If any money was left after her care, the funeral home got it with the leak proof oak casket with brass handles, the cost of the rides in the hearse, the digging of the grave, the tent and chairs, the programs, and the minister’s fee to say the few verses that were different than the ones Mary Francis had underlined and noted in her Bible to be read at her funeral. It would be months before they discovered her notes, but by then it was too late.
The hymns hammered by the pianist on the baby grand, the minister’s foggy memories, and the best friend who had to be held up to read a prayer were all octogenarians and wouldn’t last another year either, but I wouldn’t be able to attend their funerals unless I got my insurance to cover my Prozac refill because it’s all so depressing and, unfortunately, realistic. Of course, I slipped leaving Mary Francis’ celebration, fell, and broke my own hip. The pain wasn’t that bad, and I refused to go to the rehab facility. I’m going to put up a fight. I’ll rehab myself at home, eat Little Debbie’s, watch reruns, and read about adventures, and as soon as I am able, I’m going on
some senior tours to see migrating birds, leaves changing, and the Northern lights.
Niles Reddick is the author of the novel Drifting too far from the Shore, two collections, Reading the Coffee Grounds, Road Kill Art, Other Oddities, and a novella, Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in eleven anthologies and in over two hundred literary magazines including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader Magazine, Forth Magazine, Cheap Pop, Flash Fiction Magazine, With Painted Words, among many others. Feel free to visit his website at www.nilesreddick.com.