I have a memory in my head…it goes way, way back in time. Maybe I was five; it seems you can’t go back much further than that in your childhood memory bank unless you confuse actual happenings with the memories of others. But there I was, with my grandmother, in a funeral parlor, or funeral home as they are called in southern Indiana.
What I do not recall is WHY we were there. I do not remember us “visiting someone”, if you know what I mean. We were in a big room where there were lots of caskets, coffins, sarcophaguses, or after placed in the ground, “final resting place”.
I specifically remember there being child-size samples. Obviously this vivid, and not so happy, memory has remained with me for more than 45 years.
Never letting go of my grandmother’s hand, I think I can say I was traumatized.
Fast forward some 30 years and there I was again, back in the Parlor. Only this time it was for an even more somber occasion. My great aunt had passed away and my sister and I had been asked to sing a hymn for the funeral service. This was not anything we had not done before; we were accustomed to singing together. We had sang as a trio in our church growing up with our father as the tenor, strumming his acoustic for all it was worth, my sister leading and me bringing up the alto. “Buddy and the Girls” sang some old Rambo songs, newer Lanny Wolfe selections (now remember this was the 70’s) and probably some Happy Goodman’s thrown in for good measure. (Indulge me here with this blast from the past…you can barely make it out but this is the three of us singing back in the day…)
(And this one, a close-up of the Brady Bunch, I mean the Miller family, circa 1976…classics…dyin’ over those leisure suits!)
But this time, for some reason, “Dad” wasn’t singing with us; we were on our own and it should have been easy street.
Not so. Oh, not so.
As was the setting in this particular home-for-the-dearly-departed, the singers and organist were in a “secret room” off to the side; we could not be seen, only heard.
That is good and it is also bad.
We could not really see what was going on, except for some “slats” in the wall that gave us a slight view of the minister.
It was finally our time to begin “Near the Cross” and the organist starts the introduction. My sister, Rhea, made Fanny Crosby proud in that moment as she softly crooned,Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain
Free to all, a healing stream
Flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.
I humbly add my alto to her soprano when we reach the chorus and family harmony never sounded so good as we blended together to sing,In the cross! In the cross! Be my glory ever…
Here is where things go horribly wrong.
We are gathered around one microphone, reminiscent of radio recordings, and almost singing face-to-face. Suddenly, without warning, Rhea begins to giggle.
I look at her in horror when we hit the line, “Till my raptured soul shall find…” and she bursts out laughing and turns away from me and the microphone!
That leaves this alto all alone, in shock and disbelief, thinking she must have hiccups, about to be sick, or something else I cannot imagine. I cannot begin to believe she is literally laughing out loud.
But yes, she is, leaning against the wall in this little cubbyhole of a room, laughing. The organist glances at us both, back and forth, horrified and stunned.
True to our Miller training, I immediately switch parts and begin the lead as I enter “…rest beyond the river”.
I sing the next verse all by myself, finish the last chorus, all by myself, and finally, after what seemed an eternity, it was over.
I grabbed my sister’s hand; pushed her out the door, and down the hallway to the ladies room for my “What were you thinking?” tirade.
In between laughs she is mumbling, “I’m sorry”.
I am still in shock. Surely everyone noticed this was not planned. We will be the talk of the funeral for years to come. Poor Addie Cazee will be immortalized, not for the beautiful service, the flowers or the crowd that came to pay their respects.
“Remember those sisters that sang that song at Addie’s funeral?” “Yes, have you ever seen anyone laugh at a funeral?” “Not when they were singing the song right before the eulogy!”
No, this one will go down in history for the duet that sang a hymn (they won’t even remember WHICH hymn) and LOL’d all the way to the end.
I believe I told my sister I was retiring from “funeral parlor singing” that very day. I actually kept my word for quite a while until our grandmother passed away about 13 years ago…Buddy and the Girls were asked to perform a selection. This time it was out in the open, no little room to hide our faces. There we stood once again, side by side, that family harmony blending like magic.
And my spiked heel on her foot just daring her to even think of smiling…
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