Madison’s Speech For Grandpa

I imagine it was very difficult for everyone up here to write about my grandpa. Where do you even start? Focusing on everything he accomplished dilutes him to obscurity, but leaving anything out feels like an offense to his complexity. So I decided, he’s got enough material already, I’ll just steal from him. The story I’m going to share is about his family and it has stood out to me since I first read it in highschool. It is a portrait of his Italian-American upbringing and a charming example of his sense of humor. It’s from The Second Generation and it’s called “Beautiful Italian Funeral Ladies”. Forgive the subject matter. It’s an entire short story so I won’t read. it all, but I’ve done my best to condense the plot while maintaining the personality. For the most part these are his own words: The story starts with Dolly, my grandpas ???, attending her mother Filomena’s funeral. Dolly is praying at the side of her mother’s coffin and begins to cry, but it was more than just crying, it was “a sob that grew in volume and pitch until it filled the entire funeral parlor and commanded everyone’s attention.” “The women in the row of seats nearest the coffin looked on approvingly, but some of the male relatives were clearly uneasy. They knew that heart-rending drama was a part of funerals, and that Dolly had a strong inclination to view her entire life in tragic terms. They were worried because they were not sure they could handle her at graveside.” ...it wasn’t common but “occasionally someone would be so overcome that she would try to throw herself into the grave as the coffin was being lowered. The attempts at restraint were not always successful”, and it was important to keep all living relatives above ground. As the ritual progressed, [Dolly] would look a little more tired, her hair would get a bit more undone, and her dress would be slightly more wrinkled until, at the cemetery, she would be completely disheveled. This would confirm that her sense of loss was true and deep. She was not the only one to indulge in public weeping and exclamations of sorrow. Sometimes one of the sisters or a cousin would also break into tears and cry loudly enough to be heard throughout the funeral parlor, and sometimes one outburst would set off a number of others. The women took death as a personal insult, evidence that the universe conspired against them by imposing an affliction from which they should be exempt. It wasn’t such a problem to fetch a relative out after an inspiration of grief, “the real problem was Dolly’s physical configuration. The huge circumference of her hips and belly made her so wide and massive, and gave her such a low center of gravity that if she were [even] sitting on the floor there was no way she could get up by herself. The men knew it was absolutely necessary to keep her from jumping, because once in the grave, it would be nearly impossible for them to get sufficient purchase to pull her out. If they did not grab her strongly enough at the right moment she could break loose and dive into the coffin. They had to be vigilant. When they got to the cemetery Dolly would not wait. Displaying a surprising agility, she was out of the limousine just as the hearse door was opened, and started toward the coffin. She was quickly flanked by two of the guards while her husband tried to keep her calm. Joe’s efforts seemed to work, and Dolly walked slowly and quietly to the coffin, which was now level with the ground, suspended over the open grave. A good deal of attention was focused on Dolly because at least some action was expected during the burial. I started to think about the possibilities at the cemetery. My guess was that she would try desperately to jump into the grave and might even succeed in spite of the best efforts of the three wardens. As the priest started in on this final section of the service, Dolly became more restive, and started a low, soft sobbing. Just as the priest finished, and just as the coffin was being lowered, Dolly released a high-pitched wail, called for her mother, begged her not to leave, rose from her chair and started toward the coffin, screaming “I don’t want to live, I am coming with you.” Joe and his two helpers tried to constrain her, but Dolly’s strength was unexpectedly magnified and she was aided by the substantial inertial mass of her moving bulk, which resisted the efforts to stop her. Dolly was making progress and the situation was getting out of hand. Her thick legs pushed mightily against the ground, and her arms were flailing at the guards while she continued to cry and protest. Dolly was close to the edge of the grave. Joe was in front of her trying to push her back, and his two assistants had her by the arms. Her girth defeated any attempts to grab her by the waist, and she was still moving forward. But then two other men rushed up to help, and she was finally stopped and dragged back to her chair. A catastrophe that only a few really believed would occur had been averted. The sounds of mourning gradually faded away, the funeral director announced that everyone was invited to lunch nearby, the crowd gradually dispersed. Aunt Filomena had been sent off in the most reverent and respectful manner possible. There’s so much Grandpa wrote, I especially encourage my cousins to read some of his stories, you may be surprised at the breadth of subject matter. And If anyone would like to read this story in its entirety let me know after, or you could always buy it on Amazon. Some say that people come into your life to teach you something. By nature my grandpa has taught us all many things, quite literally. Perhaps now, with his passing, we are learning the most important and difficult lesson he has been able to give us. While I certainly don’t enjoy the feelings I’ve been sorting out this month, I am learning so much from them and I am grateful I had the opportunity to love someone so much.