... background image is a picture of the Saskatchewan prairie ...
Not knowing how to frame this, nor where to start in this story, I shall just being to type close to the beginning.
Vernetta leaned forward and whispered, “Where did you come from?” embracing me when I saw her at the Family visitation that preceded the funeral.
“The Shuswap,” I replied. “I didn’t want to miss this.”
“Bless you,” she said, hugging me and I moved on to see Lorne for one last time. When I went to the casket, I had a deep impulse to move aside some of the folds of the ceremonial clothing he was wearing, looking for a sign of his politics as well – perhaps a Wild Rose Party pin tucked in somewhere.
I can hardly think of Lorne without remembering that I would meet him at high school and university sports events. When I did, the discussion might easily turn to civic or provincial politics after we had talked about our favorite stars on the teams. I went to plenty of those high school and university basketball games myself. But Lorne was going long before I started and long after I stopped. His son, Darryl, said of him that he loved to cheer for the underdog. He remembered in the recent past, Saskatchewan was playing, Lorne was a supporter – happily dressed in clothing that would withstand temperatures of 25 degrees below zero with the windchill of 40. He knew to layer-up with snow pants, boots and coats from his old seismic days and then he would be part of the dedicated audience long after his kids had graduated from high school and post-secondary schooling.
The biography was too brief for me – probably just the regular length, but I wanted Ken to tell me more. And more. And more. Appropriate to double up on the length when a life has been so interesting, I thought to myself.
Often in the biography there is a line that goes, I shouldn’t really tell this, but I am going to. Of those vignettes the one that I have thought of again today is the fact that Lorne’s sons had to practise the piano early in the morning while their parents were still in bed. David paid Darryl to practise during his time, so that his folks would think David was putting in his assigned time on the piano. I liked that. One of them became an entrepreneur at the same time getting the advantage of more practise time. Wish I had kids that smart.
I have been thinking about funerals lately. At my age a person goes to quite a few. In fact when Greg and Wyona picked me up, I told him he looked very smart in a lovely brown suit I hadn’t seen before. He said, “Thank you. Funerals are about the only chance I have to get dressed up these days."
There is a classic shape to a Mormon funeral: the family visitation at the church before-hand; the generic shape of the service; often a song from a church choir; special musical numbers, often by family members; a congregational hymn, this one called “Each life that touches us for good.” That general shape feels comfortable to me, the shape of funerals in my religious culture.
One of his sons reminded us that Lorne was truly interested in people. He wanted to know where they were from and what they were doing to make a difference in the world. Lorne really wanted to know that – even at 87 he was asking that question because he did want to know about the real lives of people.
Before the service began I stood in he foyer of the 17th Avenue Chapel, watching pictures of Lorne’s life rotate on a screen. A chance to get to know him as he wanted to know others. Random. A wedding photo. Then Doral and Lorne holding their tennis rackets. I could remember their outfits. Neither wore tennis whites. They looked like they were ready to go gather bottles from back alleys after their games was over. I can remember going down to the tennis courts with them.
“Love. Fifteen. Thirty. Do you know why it is called love, Arta?”, Doral would ask and then he would go on to answer, “Because it doesn’t mean a thing.” Both men would smile and go back to their game, “Love, fifteen, thirty.”
I would practise hitting the ball against the backboard while they played their sets. A 6:30 am telephone ring from Lorne was the signal that Doral should leave for the Hillhurst-Sunnyside location. All of those memories brought back to me, seeing the picture flash on the screen for an instant out of the chapel.
Then there would be a picture of the aging Lorne and Vernetta, flashing happy smiles, holding hands on a holiday. Then a picture from the depression ‘30’s, the overalls, the dry prairie, the lack of work.
Next onto the screen a picture of Lorne, Vernetta and the three children from their first family, those little lives snuffed out in a tragic car accident. Kenny read from his father’s journal, “We were called on to bear the heaviest burden of all, the loss of our three darling children,” Ken stopped reading to remind the audience that that funeral was June 1958 – 55 years ago, held in that room. 1,000 people in attendance. Later in the service when the pall bearers had delivered the casket to the waiting car and the mourners had climbed into their cars ready to follow the funeral procession to the Queen’s Park Cemetary, I heard the sound of the wailing siren as the police escort stopped the traffic on 17th avenue to let the funeral procession enter the traffic. Fify-five years ago and I can still remember looking back up 17th avenue, now a long line of cars with their lights on. How can that one sound bring back all of those memories.
More than one speaker mentioned the hospitality at the Reed home – people invited over for dinner, for games, for evenings of socializing, Vernetta paying attention to glorious cuisine, recipes gathered long before the Food Network became popular. The perfect host and hostess David Litchfield said. “When you were in their home you felt as though they really cared.”
I had the same feeling when I looked at the Funeral Service Programme. That touch of hospitality reflected even there. Three lovely images over which the text was written. A picture of Lorne on the front.
|... frozen custard - 10 cents, sold at the DRIVE IN ...|
Behind them is a DRIVE IN that is selling frozen custard for 10 cents. Lorne is wearing a dark suit and has a stance reminiscent of the Great Gatzby.
The image on the inside of the programme is a picture that hangs in their home, a picture of the Saskatchewan plains that he loved and never forgot.
I could see the names of his children (David, Joanne, Darryl, Susan and Kenneth), his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren on the programme.
There was an invitation to join the family for dinner after the interment at the Queen’s Park Cemetery. I wanted to go both. The Reeds. In their bereavement still, the welcoming hosts for others who are mourning.
I watched the people come into the chapel as I waited for the service to begin. Jerry Palmer was a few rows in front of us. Wyona asked me how old he was. I told her I would go find out – I thought not as young as 73 and not as old as 83, but I would confirm, I told her. When I asked him his age he dodged the question but answered my question about how his life intersected with Lorne’s.
“I was a return missionary. Coming back from the mission field I didn’t even know that my folks had moved to a neighbouring southern Alberta town from the one where I grew up. When I finally got back to my folk’s house, the next day my brother-in-law brought me to Calgary to find a job, taking me to Lorne’s business. Lorne gave me a math test,” Jerry said, miming with his hand doing a simple addition problem. ”When he saw I had about a Grade XII level of skill he hired me. That money gave me the funds with which to go to university. That job gave me the vision that I could become a professional as well. That is how I know him. He opened the space for me to have a better life. And Arta, I am 80,” he concluded.
Later in the service the biographer was to say that Lorne hired 100’s of young men, giving them ways to have funds to follow their dreams.
I have probably written enough. Lance Gallop came for a handshake and an embrace, asking about my kids, as did Moyle Pilling. Judy and Brent Clarke. Darlene Burgess, a relative on Doral’s side, asked about everyone as well. The Litchfields from Lethbridge who having a daughter Kelve’s age, asked about Kelve as well as asking about Catherine whom one of their girls knew better from Edmonton. Suzannah Gallop asked about Rebecca since Teresa was her age and is now in California, too far away, Suzannah said. Clarke Leavitt parked his walker beside Kelvin’s. It won’t be long now until the church is going to have to have an inner isle just for parking walkers, at least at funerals, I thought.
I saw cherish friends from the past.
I having been thinking about the funeral all day.
When I spoke with Wyona this morning, she said funerals make you do that.