Nan’s Dead, or is She
Nan Babbling, having spent 85 years of her life in generally productive, if rural, pursuits, was suffering the wiles of a state-run nursing home in Little Burg, CA—far out in the boonies where care is cheap and offered by green-carded Filipinos and their newly-arrived cousins. She had exhausted her personal funds and the state, shy of money, was closing an eye to Nan’s future, and that of all “old fogies” beyond caring fully for themselves. “They’ll all die soon” was the promise of budget reduction legislation, “and the basics all that’s required.”
But Nan lived on, stroke after stroke and with the dependable comfort from small bottles of secreted Ancient Age, had hung around beyond the best medical expectations. Occasionally one or two of her disinterested kin would visit, replenishing needed supplies and carrying sad stories of Nan’s diminishing back—soothing the family’s related nonchalance and scrubbing any resemblance of guilt. Nan’s plight will soon end they wanted to believe, “and likely before a chance to say our goodbyes.” A few hands might be wringing.
A call came in on Lorna’s phone. She, a granddaughter, and the attendant one in the family—occasionally seeing to special soaps for itching, Whitman’s Samplers, and soft underwear.
“Yes, this is she.”
“This is Irene with the Sunset Nursing Home and I have some bad news. You may want to sit down.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, what is it?” The news, of course, always expected.
“Your Grandmother, Mrs. B, has taken a fall, the result of another of those horrible strokes. She bumped her head on a toaster oven and we don’t expect she will continue through the night. I’m so sorry.”
“Humm. There are instructions, you know.”
“Yes, shall we take care of it.”
“Of course, take care of it. Take care of it all—the necessary steps—and tell me where to send flowers.”
“Mom, I have some bad news. You may want to turn up your phone.”
Mom, Nan’s daughter Jeannette, is a bit wacky herself. Not from bourbon, so much, but that some of her marbles were left on the shelf.
“What!? What in God’s wonder-filled world is wrong? Who is this speaking?”
“It’s Nan, Mom. They say she’s about to expire.”
“Nan? You don’t sound like my mother.”
“No Mom, I’m Lorna, your daughter, remember?
“Of course, I most certainly remember. You think I don’t know my own daughter? What is it you want?”
“It’s about Nan, Mom.”
“What about Nan? Did you say … You mean Nan is dead? We’ve been hoping you know. I mean that it would be soon, and we could stop worrying … oh, you know what I mean.”
“No, Not now. She’s bad, the worst yet, they say, and very soon. It was another serious stroke and a nasty bump on the head.”
“Oh my God, Oh my precious God, Lord Jesus Christ and the HG, what shall I do, what in the world shall I do?”
“There’s nothing to do, Mom, just thought you should know.”
“I must call all my people, make arrangements. But first I will pray and then I’ll call your aunt Margaret down in LA—she still lives there with Danny or Doug or David …. What is his name? Yes David, that’s it, or close, and there are cousins too. You have cousins, you know—so many. Oh that Margaret was busy … and they’ll want to come up, be at the service. And … ”
“Hush! No more from you. I know just what to do … and then there’s your father. What’s his name? I have such trouble with names. Gene, yes that’s it, Eugene. I’ll call him too. He’ll be concerned … he always liked Nan. Poor Nan, we knew, of course, she was going to be at peace with the Lord soon enough. We always knew that.”
“Mom, Dad passed away, four years ago—he doesn’t have a phone. I have to go now. Please don’t call anyone. There’s nothing to say. I am just letting you know, that’s all. That’s all, Mom! Bye now, love-ya and you take care.”
Jeanette Babbling called her people in LA. She called the funeral home near Little Burg, and she called the pastor from the church Nan attended years ago who gave Jeannette God’s blessing over the phone.
She called Lorna’s sibs out of town, there were two, maybe three—she didn’t rightly remember. She called the florist and the coffin maker, and she called everyone in the town where Nan lived out most of her more peripatetic years. And in all the calls she made, she neglected to call the nursing home.
But she did call her father to discover he also had died—ten years ago. And she couldn’t, for the life of her, grasp that fact or understand it. But she’d done, with aplomb, what any daughter would’ve done. She made the arrangements.
They all turned up at the funeral home, including, of course, Nan, who’d got wind of the celebration though a person anonymous who’d been supplying the Ancient Age.
And they came from all around dressed in their best blacks. Some flying in from LA, others motoring. They had reservations at the only hotel in town and there came a murmur among them, suitable they thought to the occasion.
Jeannette, feeling proud of herself, for her coordinating achievement, had hired a limousine to bring her the over the pass and one-hundred-fifty miles to the Burg. She insisted on riding alone in a shiny dark car with the windows blacked out and, “Oh my yes, don’t they all come with a bar?”
Nan, living nearby, didn’t need a limousine, or a room at the hotel, but did fancy something better than Ancient Age for this special occasion and she asked her cabbie to stop in at his favorite liquor store.
“Why my favorite store?” He asked, “They all sell the same poison.”
“I jus hate to deal with a stranger,” she replied, “never trust ‘em, my dear old dad usta say.”
“Hey sonny boy,” she inquired in a not so expiring way, “You got anything back there on the counter better’n Ancient Age?”
“You wanna stick with a bourbon, grandma?”
“Yep, it’s my funeral, I’m goin’ to, and I need a good pick-me-up so’s I can deal with the gatherin’—highfalutin’ bunch, as I recall.”
“Humm … Wild Turkey’s pretty good, you want that?”
“Sounds appropriate. Turkeys is close to those I’ll be dealin’ with … so yep, that’ll do—fittin’ to the occasion I’d say. I’ll have a quart. No, lemme see. Gimme four a those half pints ye got behind that there window over there, the one that’s locked up. They’ll do me even better.”
“Okay, old lady, like you said, it’s your funeral. You’ll want four small paper bags, I s’pose.”
“Nope. I’ll just put ‘em right here in my shoulder bag, close by and ready.”
In the meantime, Nan’s family had gathered at the funeral home and were wondering and whispering—“Where is Nan, she’s late.” The director too was beside himself with this new no-body experience. The hearse should’ve arrived hours ago with Nan gussied up, and nicely enounced in her coffin. Disturbed by her delinquency, he was preparing to call the mortuary run by his brother.
“Alphonse! Al, pick up the damn phone, he yelled into the recording device. Al … Al, is that you? Pick up, God-dammit, I’m in dire need of a body.”
“This is your bother, Al. Where the hell is the body? The violinist’s been playin’ that same old adagio for over and hour. The entire family’s here, pacing, whisperin’ and gettin’ damn nervous. Even the pastor has arrived with his prayer book and, due to the delay, he’s givin’ me that damnation eye of his. What the hell gives?”
“Beats me Bro, We havn’t seen hide nor hair of the old lady, but if she shows up, I’ll send her right over.”
Jeannette fluttered around like the moth over a bonfire, saying hello to all those she hasn’t seen in an age and many she’s never known. She wondered why the strangers were there, but of course it wasn’t important, because after all, this was her party and she wanted it attended.
“So nice of you to come,” she sang out to all, recognizing some she thought were her daughters. And, “I know you … you’re my brother. So very nice to see you again.”
“No Ms Babbling, I’m the funeral director. You remember, we spoke on the phone.”
“Well then, Mr. Director, where is mother Nan.”
“She’ll be along shortly, I promise.”
“You had better hurry her up. Look around you, everyone’s here. And that damned violin’s been on that adagio for over an hour.”
Bebus was floating—felt wakes were a fine place for good Irish whiskey, had downed a bit over the day and has now spotted a blurry Jeannette from across the room.
“Hey there,” he yelled, “Nurse Jenny! You remember me, your cousin Bebus. We usta play doctor in your old man’s garage. It’s me, darlin’, the intern you adored—until, that is, you began to ignore my suggestive flirtin’ … but listen lovely, I don’t blame you a bit and I’m so sorry about that move I made, know I was religiously wrong, first cousins and such.”
Jeannette had other responsibilities though, and couldn’t be bothered with Bebus. She needed to circulate and make everyone happy, and Bebus wouldn’t mind, as with his reminder she recalled, she had ignored him before.
“How is Eugene?” Someone asked, and she turned face-on to an old beau, who had loved her dearly when they were twelve—ahh, those years of young love, so strong, so memorable, she thought.
“Sidney, so nice of you to come. So very intelligent and thoughtful. Did you send me those lovely flowers?”
“Huh … no, I was next door, just gettin’ my nails done when I saw you pull up; and I told my pedicurist she must hurry because an old girl friend of mine has arrived. Oh, you know dear, she was fixing the rhinestones and practically done. How are you lovely? It’s been so long.”
“Sid, have you turned? How very disappointing, but you ask of Eugene? Well, he’s late. He’s never been late until recently. Sometimes he doesn’t come at all. But he loves me, you know, and he sends poetry with his flowers. Now, I must be off. Toodle-oo, Sidney, give my best to those that you know.”
The cab pulled up, gave a toot on the horn, and with a clink of the jostling Wild Turkeys, Nan entered the room—and it came to a hush as most were surprised at the unusual style of her entrance.
“Howdy all—guess you didn’t expect me to be standing. Well, it jus might be that y’all are a year or two early. But it don’t matter none as I been attendin’ these wakes since knee-high to a grasshopper and bein’ the guest of honor here—first in my recollection—I couldn’t a miss it for the world. Brought my own whiskey too,” and she raised one she’d been drinking from and had a big swig.
“Now, as you can see, I ain’t dead, not nearly so, and don’t understand the fuss from y’all, but the room’s paid up and the fiddler’s here, so let’s drink up, dance some, and let’s have us a ball.”
Nan did pass, a couple years later, and nobody came. They rationalized, and rightly so, they’d been there before, and after all, one funeral was all anyone decent deserved.
Causes David LaRoche Supports