Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Starring Highway 19 as Memory Lane

I made a road trip back home today for Brad’s funeral.

Yes, I know, I said I wasn’t planning on going. It’s a thing with teachers. We really hate missing work, typically—mostly because it’s so much work to miss work, but also mostly because it’s just better to be there. (The two mostlies were intentional. We’re dichotomous about it, see?)

Anyway, I took it as a sign when Brad’s mom asked my brother if I was coming to either the visitation or the funeral. So I got up early this morning to piece together a decent day’s work in an hour, and left for New London at about 7:00.

I posted on the Rep’s remembrance page for Brad that I didn’t “fit” back home—or something like that. However, going home does remind me that part of me belongs there—or at least comes from there.

Just getting on Highway 19 brings back plenty of memories from high school… and once I reach the Junction, I’m taken into junior-high memories. Of course, Center is rife with memory-joggers, but Highway 19 between Center and New London also takes me back to elementary years, as that’s the first stretch of road we’d take when going to Hannibal.

That short span of 19, from the Junction to New London, is my Memory Lane, I’ve decided. First, the streets in Center are too short to be memory lane for me. (I kid, Center-folk.) No, really it’s just driving down that stretch of road makes me remember things like “Steve Webster’s house and Joe Wisner’s house were down that road” and “That’s the road to The Landing” and “What happened to that old filling station that used to be there… or did I already know that was gone and forgot?” And so on.

I remember mom telling me about a house on the way to New London—it was ordered from a catalog. I’m so not making this up. Apparently this happened. It’s a nice-looking house, too. There’s the turn off for Tricia’s house, Aunt Lois’ house, the high school. Debbie’s house was right on the highway. There is the spot where mom told some stalled motorist “This man’s a bus driver,” as Mr. Gibbs pulled up IN HIS SCHOOL BUS…

It hit be about halfway between Center and New London that I need to visit at least a couple of times a year (if not once every two months) just to sort of get “that” back… whatever “that” is. Remembering where I came from, I guess.

I got to New London not long after 10:30. The parking lot for the church was full (thanks for the reminder directions, by the way, Kelly), so I pulled out into a different street than I pulled in on, went to the next intersection, did a U-ey, and parked there on the street.

I got out of the car, looked up, and there was Brad’s house… or the house he lived in when I knew him, anyway. Not only was it that house, but I was facing the windows to his room.

I usually took the street I did the U-ey in whenever I went to his house, but was both distracted by trying to find parking and forgetful of the lay of the land as I hadn’t driven around New London for many years now.

So I took a picture. (After the service, I drove by the front and the other side of the house, to see if it was as I remembered it. I remember standing in that semicircle driveway by my car, discussing different books (I never read Mall World, Brad), what we wanted to create when we were older and had creative control of anything other than our wardrobes, what the plans were for our next geeky outing (Rocky Horror? Sci-Fi Convention? Basketball Statistician Night Out?)…

I had never been to the Christian church there in New London—at least not to my memory. I didn’t recognize Jamie Lemon when I first saw him, as I was too busy taking in the surroundings. A lot of the people from the Rep in St. Louis were there, as they couldn’t make the visitation the night before (it’s a theatre thing). So I really didn’t recognize much of anyone (although some people looked naggingly familiar).

I saw Mary Jo up front by the casket, talking to some people there. Brad’s older sister was standing by, and recognized me as a Riggs (it’s so odd to go somewhere and be recognized as “a Riggs”… I haven’t had that for a while, either). She went to high school with Say. We spoke for a bit, and I kept glancing over at Brad, and as his mother, who just looked like some time had passed, but that’s about it. She seemed to be holding it together very well, considering.

Seeing Brad was tough, of course—having not seen him in person for probably 24.5 years or so (the decimal just SEEMS to make it exact, you see), and seeing him now, like that…

Talking with his mom was like I’d just seen her the day before. We didn’t talk a lot before the service, but she did ask me if I was coming to the grave site, and invited me to a light lunch being served in the church basement afterwards.

I’d met another classmate of Say’s while waiting to talk to Mary Jo. That’s the thing about going back home—you may not know anybody, but they know OF you, and they probably know a sibling of yours, or some ancestor or another—at the very least they know a cousin.

I found a corner to have a seat in, down the row from some people I knew I should recognize (the Rhodes, if anyone from back home is reading this and can’t handle even low-level suspense). Say’s former classmate (Donnie Palmer, for those of you with that suspense issue) sat right in front of me, which helped during those moments I thought I was going to actually bawl out loud. (Is it possible to bawl silently? I think the definition prohibits that. Whatever, I’m keeping it.)

The pastor (Tom Day) did the standard reading of the obituary, then had a seat as Deborah Sharn (I’m thinking she performs around the St. Louis area—she knew Brad, anyway) sang a song called, “Time Heals Everything”. It was a song Brad would request whenever he would come see her sing, and would often sing with her.

A friend and co-worker (perhaps supervisor) named Mark Bernstein got up next to speak about Brad. It was beautiful and summed up a lot of what I’ve already said about Brad (and what’s been said around the world via the internet, it seems). Smart, funny, kind, thoughtful, giving, etc. He really didn’t change much from when we would hang out back in the mid-80s…

There were scripture readings, and Dr. Ken Haller, who shared a house with Brad (I think Brad lived in the third floor… there were Mary Tyler Moore Show references in his remembrance on the Rep site about this). He shared more of the same, lots of laughs. And he sang another favorite of Brad’s, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, and encouraged us to sing along. I didn’t trust myself to sing very loudly.

Unlike the last two near-and-dear-to-me funerals I had attended, I loved the message from the Pastor. While it made me tear up and leak about the eyes several times, it didn’t seem like a “you need to come to church” piece (as Mom’s seemed to be) or a “gee, wonder if this deceased person is in Hell” piece (see blog entry about Lois’ service back in January of ’06).

The part that almost had me running to the door in case I couldn’t hold back a horrible sob was where he said, “You need to forget about what you might have done differently.”

Cheralinn found me after the service. I had not seen her during it, even though it was possible to see everyone in the place. She asked me if I was going to the grave site, I asked her if she was going to be at the lunch thing, and we sobbed at each other a bit.

At first I wasn’t sure about going to the grave site. But then it seemed… right. I’ve realized in the past 48 hours or so how many people from high school think “Mark” when they think of Brad. After 25 years, I think part of me felt maybe I imagined we were that close. So I drove in my second funeral procession going to Grandview Funeral Home (the first one being back in… 1983, (was it…?) for Les Huston).

Walking up to the grave site—or if not the actual site, the site where they were having the grave site part of the service… I’ll happily explain that later, but not until I’ve discussed with Ed, who knows all things grave-site related. Side note: For those who know the story of my helping Ed dress a body one Christmas morning, this is the place where I did that.

Okay, back on track: Walking up to the grave site, the rightness of it really set in. I was once part of the Mark-and-Brad or the Brad-and-Mark (in the next world, Brad and I will have to discuss what it should actually be), and it was right I should be there for this.

After the very short gravesite portion, Cheralinn came over with the person I thought was maybe her husband (I don’t know that I’d looked closely at any facebook pics of him… or if I had, I’m an idiot with no memory, which is also valid). This guy said, “I bet you don’t remember me,” or maybe some other wording, but along that line. I told him I’d remember him with a name, and I was right. It was Kyle Jameson, another MTHS person I had not seen for years.

We all agreed to meet back at the church, and I went over to talk to one of Brad’s current friends. It was awkward, but I felt it was something I needed to do—and forced myself to, despite my voice not wanting to cooperate. In short: who is this crazy person coming over here and talking to me?

It was through the conversation with Kyle and Cheralinn (and later Mary Jo) that I remembered so many things I’d forgotten: Brad and I did basketball stats together (sometimes with Cheralinn, sometimes with Cathy… maybe sometimes with both…); I made up a statisticians “cheer”, and from what Cheralinn repeated, it wasn’t half bad; there’s some story about Bob Gough, 3:00a.m., and a baseball bat I’m still trying to put together in my head.

I reminded them about UNO (and pieced together the whole Mar Kriggs thing had its roots in my video game tag… I was JAK for a long time, but then switched to MAR), and Ad Astra, and the time we got a huge circle of people to do the Time Warp at some dance or another.

Mary Jo had no idea how well-loved Brad was by so many people. She printed off a stack of remembrances, testimonials, tributes, etc., from the internet. She said the stack was several inches tall when printed out.

I learned Mary Jo is not a fan of visitations. She liked the actual funeral service a lot more. As we were winding things down, and everyone was leaving the church, she admitted, “Now comes the hard part.”

I stopped by to visit with Paulette before heading back home, and was glad I did, as always. Now I have to plan a trip back that lasts a whole weekend—or maybe a chunk of Spring Break, if Binx opts out of visiting me—or wants to hang out with me back home.

In other news: Yes, televangelists say crazy stupid things. Let us speak of this no more. I don’t want to hand out publicity to idiots. Instead of speaking of this, donate money to some sort of disaster relief fund for Haiti. I have spoken. Or, really, I have typed.

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