When we walked into the church I saw his coffin open through the window, separating a waiting area and a rest area from the rest of the church. I didn't know what to do. I look at my dad as he was comforting my crying mother.
"I'm gonna use the bathroom." I say. He looks over at me, his eyes puffy red but yet no tears emerge from his eyes. He nods at me, and I walk over to the room with the bathroom where my older cousin; 21 years old is with his girlfriend, laughing and looking at the bookshelf which could have had over 100 different types of bibles. I walk into the bathroom and shut the door. I look at myself in the mirror. I had cut my hair a week before coming up to New Jersey for the 5th time in the last two months. I was wearing a plain white button down shirt, with a Scooby Doo tie, and a nice pair of khakis. To top all of that off I had a pin that had Mickey Mouse's face wearing a fire helmet. He loved Disney. Every year he drive down with his wife, and the motor home during the winter, with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and spend his days in Florida. He must of visited Disney land more then a hundred times.
I do my business and walk out, walking to through the door into the waiting area, and into the church. I didn't want to see his whole body, I really did not want to cry. I could make out his face, and memories flooded my head of him laughing, the feeling of his clothes when I hugged him, and his colon he used. I could also make out what he was wearing. His fire company was notorious for wearing a red suit, man or woman, and damn they looked pretty cool. His fire helmet, and his cover that he wore as a chief were next to him, as well as an old picture of him wearing the suit, and even a plaque that I didn't bother to read.
People began to enter, mostly just friends and family members from the side of the family that I didn't know. We lined up next to his coffin, my Grandmother, my Aunt, my Mother, my Father, my Uncle, my cousin, my 12 year old brother, me, and my other cousin who was 17. We shook hands for a few minutes, then the Rio Grande fire company entered. All in uniform for their former fire chief. They put honor guard on both sides of his coffin, they switched the honor guard 4 times that day. It was quiet remarkable seeing them doing it. Everyone knew when to stop shaking hands, and hugging and would just sit back as two men or two women would walk down the isle, take a nice sharp right turn and relieve the two honor guard. The then former honor guard would salute, then walk forward, take another sharp left and get back in line to meet the grieving family.
Most of the people we met said the same basic thing. "I'm sorry for your loss." or "He was a good man." This went on for 3 hours. When it began I sat with my 17 year old cousin; his name is William. We sat close to my Grandfathers coffin, and the movies have lied to me. The dead don't look peaceful; the look sad, and lost and that just made my day worse. We sang, did a few readings from the bible and a few people came up to talk. My uncle, who recently retired from being a fireman for the Wild Wood fire department, the current Rio Grande fire chief, and one of my grandfathers former co-workers, since he worked in an insurance agency while working with Rio Grande. (Rio Grande is a vol. fire company.) It sucked. I did not like it at all. I don't remember what the co-worker and the fire chief said, but I remember something really distinct that my uncle said.
My grandfather always drove a 1950's firetruck called the Mack. He loved that truck, and worked to get it refurbished a long time ago. It was practically his since he was the only one that drove the truck. This is what my uncle said.
"Man..that old bastard loved that Mack. He had it refurbished, and had to get the funds for it. So his wife, and oldest daughter worked on funding while he called his youngest daughter (my mom) down to refurbish the ladders. He drove that thing anywhere, and I think its time to let him have the last ride." Lets just say I cried.
When that was done, me, my cousins, my brother, and two fire-men had to roll the now closed coffin out of the church. When we got to the steps we had to carry it to the Mack. We were surrounded by fire-men and women. When we opened the doors into the really cold air (mind you it was 30 degrees with a windchill making it feel 10) someone from Rio Grande yelled out.
"Rio Grande detail, Present Arms!" And they all saluted. When we put the coffin on the truck, I drove with William, following behind my other cousin, who was following the limo which held my aunt, uncle, mother, father, and grandmother, which followed the Mack. Behind us was 30 different vehicles, ranging from an Ambulance, to a ladder truck.
We followed for 20 minutes. We had a police escort the entire way there. As we were driving we passed maybe 4 fire stations, and outside of those fire stations were fire men/women all dressed up and saluting. I cried....again.
When we got to the cemetery we carried his coffin to his grave, and set it on a machine that held his coffin up while we mourned. I joined my dad who was standing behind me mom. Two fire men folded up the flag on his coffin and gave it to my grandmother.
We all stood there for what seemed like hours, when a distinct sound came on from behind me. It's a sound I know all too well from my grandparents and cousins house.
Dooooooo WUWUWUWUWUUWUW doooooo. After that, and operator began talking.
"I would just like to thank the former Rio Grande Fire Chief of 17 years for his service to the great state of New Jersey, and to this nation. I would like to congratulate him on his last call this evening. (Meaning the funeral.) Once again, thank you Ralph Porch." Then it got quiet. Bag pipes played, we put roses on his coffin and we all left.
But one thing I will never forget about that funeral, one thing that stands out against regular funerals and military funerals.
His last call.