Chapter 21 – Tim and Dad Attend a Wake
Attending my dad’s service made me think of the time that he and I had once gone to the wrong wake. Err…I don’t know if that’s the right way to phrase it. Maybe I’ll say the time that he and I went to a wake when we shouldn’t have gone to one at all. It’s kind of an interesting story, ya see. As per usual, my mom’d been reading through the death notices in the Chicago Tribune when she saw that a man named Robert Nelson had died. He was the beloved husband of a woman named Jacqueline and he was to be waked at Smith-Corcoran Funeral Home with a mass the following day being held at the Queen of All Saints Basilica in the Sauganash area of the city. It just so happens that our most loyal window washing customers who’d been having my dad wash the exterior windows on their house once a month, nine months a year since the early nineties were named Bob and Jackie Nelson and they lived quite close to that funeral home and that church. When me and my dad came home from work that afternoon, my mom told us the bad news and we were both kinda bummed out.
“We were just there less than two weeks ago,” my dad said. “He didn’t look sick at all.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think he looked sick,” I added. “Maybe it was a heart attack or somethin like that.”
“What day’s his wake gonna be?” Dad asked and Mom told him.
“Did you wanna go?” I asked my dad. “I’d go with you if you wanted to go.”
Normally I wouldn’t volunteer to do such a thing. I really hate wakes and funerals, and don’t have any sort of personal rapport with many of our customers. Aside from the Nelsons, we only have one other customer that’s been having us do her windows once a month for many years. It’s this woman named Ann who goes out of her way to have a package of Fannie May chocolates to give us every time we do her house. Very nice lady. Aside from her and the Nelsons, I don’t think there’re any customers with whom we’d built up enough of a personal relationship over the years to feel the need to go and pay our respects at their wake were they to pass away. Not to say we don’t appreciate everyone else’s business while they’re still alive, of course – it’s just, ya know…I’m kind of indifferent to their demise. That might sound like a horrible thing to say, but there’s no way all those people give a shit about me and whether I’m alive or dead, ya know? I mean, from fielding their calls during this past year since my dad died, I could tell how a lot of ‘em didn’t give a fuck about his dying by the way they blew off the news and proceeded to hound me about getting their windows washed. Like, one fuckin bitch was even pressuring me to come out and get her windows done during the week between my dad’s death and the service we held for him, so I think not caring about people beyond your immediate circle passing away is kind of natural. I mean, anything beyond that…who has the energy, am I right? Anyway, that said…
“Yeah, maybe I’ll go,” Dad said, rubbing his chin. “The Nelsons were one of my first customers when I broke away from Brennan and started my own business. I’ve been doin their windows for over twenty-five years now. They even send us that Christmas card they do with the photo of them and all their grandkids on it every year. Yeah, ya know, I think it’s only right that I should go.”
So, a couple days later, my dad and I got home from work and changed clothes and then got back in the truck and started drivin over to Smith-Corcoran Funeral Home. On the way, we reminisced about the time Bob told us the story of how he was far out on Lake Michigan in a little fishing boat when a massive storm rolled in and caught him by surprise. He said his little boat was bein tossed around by fifteen-foot waves as if it weighed nothing and that the rain was so thick, he could no longer see the shore. He said he struggled to keep the boat from tipping while dumping as much of the accumulated rain and lake water as possible over the sides. He said he was sure he was gonna die out there, and for what? For having made the simple mistake of failing to read the weather report before heading out to fish that morning? But as fate would have it, Bob Nelson didn’t die that day. He held on and eventually made it back to the shore. He lived to tell us the tale all those years later one of the times me and my dad had been there washing his outside windows.
I didn’t ask Dad if he remembered it because I knew he did, but during the ride to the funeral home I reminded him of the time that I’d accidentally ripped the front bumper off his truck while backin outta the Nelson’s driveway. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we left the truck parked out on the street, but this one time I was drivin and it was garbage day and they had their cans out in the street and I thought it’d make more sense to pull in the driveway to stay outta the way in case the garbage men came by. It was a nice gesture, I supposed, but when backin outta the driveway after we did the windows, I cut the wheel too soon and the leftmost extreme of the front bumper caught the side of the fire hydrant which sat mere inches away from the edge of the pavement and it ripped the thing clean off.
Mrs. Nelson would later tell me that many people had hit that thing over the years, including their son – like seven or eight at the time – who’d once started up their car in the backyard and backed it all the way to the front where the hydrant damn near ripped off the driver’s side door which he’d failed to close before he kicked the thing in reverse. Regardless of however many other people may’ve made that mistake over the years, I expected better of myself. I was pretty upset by what I’d done. I mean, I’d been drivin for like ten years at that point and had recently taken over drivin Dad’s truck to work after arguing with him that we were better off with me at the wheel than him with his messed up neck and overall goofiness, and this is what ends up happening. I felt like such a fuckin idiot. I was beatin myself up pretty bad, but Dad wasn’t really all that pissed off about it. I guess he had a high tolerance for his kids fuckin up his truck ever since my sister mistook the gas for the brake, jumped a curb and drove it through a brick wall in the parking lot where he’d been tryin to teach her how to drive a few years beforehand. Of his bumper, I think he just sighed and shook his head and said somethin like, “Well, that’s why we don’t ever park in their fuckin driveway.”
Although the idea of drivin directly through the brick wall a la my sister Teresa and makin our entrance to Mr. Nelson’s wake that way seemed kinda tempting, Dad and I parked in the lot outside Smith-Corcoran funeral home like civilized human beings and made our way inside on foot. Once we’d gained entrance to the building, we headed towards the room with a placard outside the door indicating that that’s where they’d been holding a service for Mr. Robert Nelson. Just inside the door had been a podium on top of which sat the funeral guest book. On each side had been easels holding up posters with photos from the life of the deceased. My dad waited for the person in front of him to finish signing their name in the book and then picked up the pen and wrote our information. After that, he and I stepped to the side and started looking at all the photos, almost all of which featured an old guy whom we didn’t recognize.
“Man,” Dad said, “Bob sure looks different than he did a couple weeks ago. You think he looks different because he was sick?”
“Hmm…I don’t think so, my man.”
“Nah. I mean, the guy’s looked the same for all twelve or thirteen years that I’ve known him. And he’s looked more or less the same during all twenty-five years that you’ve known him, right?”
“Well, when would he’ve changed so drastically?”
“I dunno,” he said. “That’s why I was wonderin if he maybe looked different once he got sick or somethin.”
“Got sick when?” I asked. “During the two weeks since we last saw him at his house when he looked perfectly normal, you think Bob got terminally ill, morphed into some other guy and then took this lifetime’s worth of photos with all these different people here just before he died? You think that’s what really happened?”
“Hmm,” he scrunched up his forehead. “Probably not.”
“Yeah, probably not,” I said. “And where’s Mrs. Nelson? She’s not in any of these photos either. Like, dude, I think this is someone else. I think this is some other Bob Nelson that just happens to be married to a Jackie.”
“Really?” Dad asked.
“Really,” I said.
“So that means…” his eyes kinda lit up, “…Bob’s not really dead?”
“No,” I shrugged, “I guess he’s not really dead.”
“That’s great,” Dad smiled. “But ya know, now that I think about it, the Nelsons I know always belonged to St. Mary of the Woods Parish and not Queen of All Saints, so…”
“No shit?” I said. “Why didn’t you mention that any sooner? Maybe we coulda avoided this situation.”
“I dunno,” he shrugged. “I didn’t think of it til just now.”
“Alright. Fair enough,” I said. “Well, let’s get the fuck outta here.”
We turned around and walked outta the room back into the main hallway and were headin for the door when…
“Oh, wait,” Dad said and stopped walkin.
“What?” I asked. “What’s up?”
“Just one second,” he said and stepped back into the room.
I followed behind to see what he was up to. Dad approached the podium and picked up the pen that he’d used to write in the funeral guest book and proceeded to scribble over our names.
“Okay,” he said, setting the pen back down in its place, “now we can go.”
We smiled and joked and laughed the whole way back to the car saying, “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe he’s not really dead!” On the ride back home, we discussed whether or not we should tell the Nelsons this story the next time we went to do their windows, but ultimately decided not to. They themselves were old and not in the best of health, and we figured that tellin ‘em a “we thought you were dead” story would be in poor taste.