So, my mom and dad had ten kids, and were, as you may have guessed, Catholic.
Both were very involved in the activities of our parish. My mom and Mrs. D headed up the funeral dinner committee. "Funeral dinner" wasn't technically correct—it was really luncheon with ham and beef sandwiches bought from the local caterer, and potluck dishes contributed by members of the committee. If someone in the parish died and the family wanted a funeral dinner, my mom and Mrs. D organized it, and it took place in the old Church hall, a wonderfully creaky but well-preserved building adjacent from the church.
I (and my siblings) were often pressed into service for all sorts of parish goings-on. I never volunteered. But I was always happy when my mom asked if I'd help with a funeral dinner.
I enjoyed them. I liked being around two adult women instead of all my brothers and sisters. And we used the kitchen equipment in the Old Hall, which was usually off-limits behind a locked door. The wood floors were very old and creaky, and they smelled nice. Woody. I liked the important sound my feet made on them as I set everything up--spreading the plastic tablecloths, placing the homemade flowers made out of egg cartons, and hauling the folding chairs into place. All in all, it felt like I was providing a service for people in need, and it made me feel useful and proud.
When the guests came in after the graveside service, I always looked at them furtively, around the kitchen door, to see if I could find anyone crying. No one ever was. This confused me. As I did the tasks my mom or Mrs. D directed me to do out among the guests, I assumed an air of concerned helpfulness. I tried hard to stop short of officiousness or outright nosiness, which would have ruined the aura I was seeking to project and embody. I so wanted to be as good as I sometimes seemed!
If anyone started sobbing, I had my plan ready: I would run to get napkins, and then offer my shoulder for them to cry on. And if they felt like talking, I would be ready, because I had tons of questions. Who died? How old? How did he die? What was she like? Are you sad? What happened? Did you ride in the ambulance? Was that fun?
When my Grandma died, I asked my mom if we would have a funeral dinner for her. She said no, because we couldn’t afford it. I was aghast—people paid for that? And if people paid for it, how much did it cost? Who got the money?
In fact, I was wondering if, now that I knew how this deal was financed, if I might get some of that money.
I was disappointed when my mom said the money went to the church to help with expenses. But it did not dim my satisfaction when helping out at the funeral dinners. In fact, my air of concerned helpfulness was merely augmented by my newly acquired air of dignified volunteerism.