Friday, January 27, 2017

A Country Funeral

The old vet has been in a semi-private room since he came to his current facility back in July, but the other week he finally got a room-mate. The “room” is actually a suite with two small bed-rooms and a shared sitting room and bath room. The room-mate moved into the other bed room, but his general condition worsened in a few days and before I'd even met him he was back in the hospital. He died there. Libby and I went to his funeral mid-week. He was 87, had lived all his life out here in the western side of Chatham County. He did maintenance work, mostly painting, until he retired. He loved old cowboy movies. He helped his neighbors. His daughter, who had coincidentally worked with Libby decades back, loved him.

The funeral was in a little Methodist church about 5 miles from our house. I grew up in a Methodist church, so I knew they were going to say "trespasses," not "debts." It was a beautiful sunny January day. The preacher was a youngish lean man in a brown suit. The music was provided by an older guy who played piano and sang a couple of country hymns. I thought he might be wearing a toup. A few people got up and said a few things about the deceased. Then the preacher took the podium. He talked for a good while about God's mercy and unstinting perseverance. Then he said that it was a great relief that, only a week before his death, the deceased had at last taken Jesus as his personal savior. The preacher had, as you might expect, been right there, toiling in the task, Jesus' corporal helpmate. There was a cowboy movie on the the background. This must have been only a few days before the deceased moved into the old vet's digs.

So the deal was, had this kind, hardworking elderly man not said some magical words a week before he died, well he would have gone straight into the burning lake of fire, where he would live in anguish forever after. The old man used to tell folks, including the preacher, that he had painting jobs so big that he never really finished them. By the time he'd get to the end, the first part was due again. This sounded to me like something Dante might have thought up. Make it through the paint job and you get the lake of fire. WTF, as the kids say nowadays.

It kind of makes you wonder. Who would think, at the funeral of an old man beloved by his family and little scattering of friends, to suggest that except for this so-called conversion, he should be remembered as someone who was bound for hell. Someone afterwards told me that he had driven the school bus when he was a kid—this man was twenty years younger than the deceased. They all trudged in a line down to the old country church cemetery, the preacher leading the way. We drove on home. We didn't want to know what the preacher might say at the graveside. We wondered what they teach these country preachers anyways, or if they do any reading, or even go to seminary.

That's the Portsmouth Island, NC church in the photo. No one lives on Portsmouth Island any more.

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