Our family hurriedly packed up and left the next morning to drive the 675 miles to Bessemer, Alabama, where Jesse Morris Jr lived out his entire life. Mark has one sibling, Rewa, who lives in Atlanta, who also drove there that night with her husband, son, and daughter. Their cousin Evon has been living there for the past few months to help with Papa's illness, and her daughters Kimberlee and Kristy joined her from Utah and Florida. So it was a full 3BR, 1 1/2 bath house. It was really good to be together though, and Nana was greatly cheered by the presence of her family members. She wanted lots of input for the funeral arrangements, which kept us busy.
Nana is a night owl, who rarely goes to bed before 2 am. She falls asleep sitting up around 8 pm, but then gets up and goes after a nap. Apparently, her entire family is the same way. We frequently had visitors late into the night and enjoyed getting to know them better. Nicknames are commonly used and some members of the family I only know by one name, like Duck, one of my favorite conversationalists. She's Boo's little sister. Sometimes I don't follow the conversations so well, since I don't know the people they're talking about or totally get the euphemisms or jokes. As always, I made a fool of myself more than once. But I was proud for knowing w/o asking what a "knee baby" is.
Church members, neighbors, Friends-and-Relations took good care of us and apparently there is some traditional fare for a death in the family. We ate fried/rotisserie chicken, potato salad, and cake every single day we were there. Do not misunderstand; we were all grateful to not have to shop/prepare/cook and there were several other Southern sides that added variety. My favorites were the baked beans with bacon, the squash casserole, and the lemon pound cake.
The funeral was held in Papa's church, Petty's Chapel African Methodist Episcopalian (AME) Zion's Church. When the preacher announced the full name, Felicity blurted, "No wonder there are so many black people here!" It was attended by the many friends, family, and church members of Papa's life, dressed to the nines in black, gray, or white (mostly black) and fancy hats to boot. The music and preaching was a little louder, livelier, and more dramatic than our kids typically get, so they were somewhat surprised. I think the best is the sudden participation in the middle of prayers, sermons, or music. Lots of standing up and/or calling out: "Amen!" "Well!" "Fix it!" etc. My father-in-law was a prominent member of this congregation and served as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He did a lot for the church and was there every week.
Felicity and Katrina sang a song with their cousin Kel that I accompanied (no, not on the Jazz organ) a la the Primary Children's Songbook: "Papa, I Love You." There were some off-key moments, but somehow, it made it more endearing since they're obviously related and not ultra talented. Tee Tee Rewa bought them white knit dresses that Felicity stained pre-funeral while coloring with a black crayon, but they still looked lovely, although their attention span deteriorated during the Euology. Katrina got some laughter when she whispered a little too loudly, "Is he almost done? GOOD!" The funeral was longish for the kids, especially Matthew, but thankfully the cemetery was not too far away. It was a very nice service and we felt thankful to be there. I learned new things about my father-in-law, specifically of his generosity, humility, and service.
In Alabama, when passing a funeral procession (which is heavily escorted by cops from neighboring towns), everyone stops as a sign of respect until the entire caravan has disappeared. I'm not just talking about the folks trying to cross the street, but also the cars driving the opposite direction on the other side of the road, that come to a complete stop in the middle of a 4-lane highway. The whole journey was driven at about 15 mph. With tired and hungry (read: grumpy) kids in the van, it was truly a necessity to listen to Bill Cosby on the way. The children appreciated the short burial service and it was the first time I've seen the coffin lowered completely into the ground for loved ones to drop their flowers.
We returned to the church for the "repass" (also called repast) of a spread of soul food; no funeral potatoes in sight, returning home to entertain visitors. It was an exhausting day and we packed up 2 days later to drive home absolutely wiped out from lack of sleep but very happy we could be there. Funny thing, I haven't needed to eat for several days.
We love you Papa! We will miss you.