It was a horrible time. My grandfather, possibly the most revered man in my life, had been gone just over a year. My grandmother had chosen to follow him 14 months later, on Christmas Eve. My crazy aunt was back in town for the services and nothing was going according to plan.
My grandmother had not been a happy woman. She'd married wrong perhaps. Or had always pictured herself with more. Maybe she'd just woken up perpetually on the wrong side of the bed. For 76 years. Who knew really? All I did know is that at my ripe old age of twenty-nine, I was saying goodbye to a woman who had not liked me from the get-go and over time, I'd learned to return her sentiment. It was a mutual thing. Oh, we loved each other - we were Southern women after all - but like? Not a damned bit.
I sat in the third pew back, gripping my best friend's hand so tightly she was probably praying for forgiveness for some unknown sin. Not because I was wrought with guilt or even all that upset. No, I was cutting off Li's flesh because my big-haired, red-headed aunt was pacing cautiously near the open casket while my mother spoke in hushed tones to the preacher about the plan. I was nervous watching the woman bob and weave, near the pale features of her mother.
I knew from past experiences that there was nothing to prepare for one of my Aunt G's infamous flip-outs, but I tensed and braced anyway like someone waiting for the impact from a rear-end collision. My mother gesticulated quietly. She glanced at her sister. A sly finger shot out, pointed once to her younger sibling then gently rocked back and forth in warning. I knew that move. I'd seen it many times in my life.
That subtle gesture meant, "No ma'am." Simple, yet effective. Do not do that. Don't get near that. Do not act like that. Do Not Make a Scene. Period.
My eyes moved back to my aunt. She nodded almost imperceptibly. She'd gotten the message. I relaxed a bit. I took in the noticeably empty wake room. There were a few attendees but not like that of her husband's just the year before. I felt a pang. No one deserved a less-than send off.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watch Aunt G turn towards her mother and place her hands on the edge of the open casket. Oh no. No no no no no. I looked back towards my mother; she wasn't watching. No no no no no no. Not good.
Aunt G laid her forehead on the wood in between her palms and weeped. Loudly. My mother looked over and frowned. Aunt G raised up and ran a hand over her mother's now frozen features. No no no no. Definitely NOT good.
My aunt's hands straightened my grandmother's hair, fidgeted with her blouse, her hands... I looked to my mother, willing her to wrap things up with the Man of God.
"Elaine!" I heard my aunt hiss, loudly. "E-laine!"
My eyes were firmly fixed on my mother's profile, mortified yet terrified to turn and look.
"G--," my mother responded with measured calmness and in the same hushed, yet not, tone. "Not now."
"Ee-laine!" My aunt's hiss became even more pronounced.
"I'm talking." My mother sounded as though she were talking to a young child and not a forty-something year old woman.
"Eeeee-Laine!" My aunt sounded as though she were about to burst.
My mother's head whipped around, eyes brimming with fire. I couldn't help but turn my gaze in the same direction.
There stood my aunt, holding up the edge of my grandmother's white skirt for all the world to see, pointing underneath the hem. "They didn't put no drawers on mama!"
The last thing I heard as I slid out of the bench and practically hit the ground at a run for the exit was my mother saying, "G! Put mama's dress down!"