Okay, hear me out on this one. Death can be funny, both in the odd kind of way and in the laugh-out-loud version. I recently went on what felt like an epic journey to lay my father’s remains to rest. This required me to fly from Los Angeles, my home base, to Jacksonville, Florida, where my mother resides. From there we drove all the way up to Williamsport, PA, where my great grandfather, Robert Kennedy Fulton, had the foresight to buy multiple burial plots for his future dead heirs. There’s some morbid foresight for you, or perhaps just a simple understanding of life. Whatever you call it, Grandpa Fulton was thinking ahead. And I have to say, this cemetery was gorgeous, and how often to you hear “cemetery” and “gorgeous” mashed together in a sentence? We ended up clocking fourteen hundred miles of driving when it was all said and done.
I have to back this up though. Our Chevy had two other travelers in it, my aunt and my cousin, who joined us for the trip. My aunt and cousin are the two people in our family who got the funny bone, or at least the most well-developed ones. So it was two “older” ladies (I’m being polite here as my mom and aunt are in their more senior years) and me driving hundreds of miles for the first half of the trip to Maryland, where we stopped to pick up my cousin, who thought the three of us looked like Thelma and Louise with Brad Pitt. Clearly, my cousin needs to have, at the very least, her eyes examined, because Brad Pitt, I am not. Ultimately, I should have taken her statement as a big compliment, but I couldn’t stop wondering if her reference to these two heroines meant she thought my mom and aunt might drive us off a cliff. Granted, initially we were driving through the southeast, so there weren’t really any cliffs, but there were lots of woods and streams, and I certainly didn’t want to end up in any of those.
Thankfully, all four of us did end up arriving alive in Williamsport, PA, which is a good thing when you’re burying the dead. We checked into an antiseptic Motel 6, or at least I think it was a 6, or maybe it was a 5 or a 2. You know those motels, the ones that dot our landscapes here in the U.S.? Your basic utilitarian room for sleeping, where the windows don’t open, so every smell that’s ever entered the room is still there? Thank God they abolished smoking in rooms, because that must have been disgusting back in the day, and this from a person who admittedly has enjoyed a few cigarettes in his time. I’m actually from a smoking family. My grandfather chewed tobacco, which I loved to smell, until one day he shoved a can of it up my nose. When I got a little older, I asked him why he’d done that. He said so I wouldn’t end up enjoying it like him. I never did develop a taste for chewing tobacco, so I guess his gesture was a success. And just to be clear, and to protect the innocent, not everyone in my family smokes now.
So as we’re checking into our Motel 5 or 6, my cousin starts badgering my mom and me for our room number. As my mom was still signing her life away on all the hotel documents, or at least some legal paperwork exonerating the hotel and stating we’d go into mediation versus suing the hotel over the bad air and lack of anything close to tasteful or stylish décor (people, as a side note, there are more than enough gay interior designers and architects around to make your town look pretty too) my cousin persisted with her question, “What room number did you get?” “I don’t know!” was my annoyed response as I choked on the Pine Sol air. But no sooner had my coughing stopped, then my mother turned around with the room card in hand, and there it was, “Room 312.”
All four of us stared at one another in what was either a moment of silence, deep realization, or both, and then my mother began to cry. March 12 was my father’s birthday, and he was making it crystal clear to all of us that he was there in Spirit and having a fun time of it.
You had to have known my father; he was always up for a good laugh and a bad joke, so this little incident was no surprise. Well, it was a surprise that made perfect sense, and we marveled at how the Universe works despite the beige tile and off-brown wallpaper surround that could have thrown any one of us into an existential crisis. But we were in the right place, even if we were roughing it. Trust me, camping would have been much more glamorous, and there’s fresh air.
There we were about to bury my father, and clearly mourning his loss, when he made sure we got the one hotel room with his birth date. You can’t make this sh*t up! You really can’t. Total gangster move on my father’s spirit, in the most playful and thankfully obvious way. And after all the tears, we began to laugh incredulous laughter that such a thing had occurred. Yes, we laughed. Because even in death, there is humor. You just have to go to a Motel 6 to find it.
And because no Italian burial would be complete without a good meal, after we laid my father to rest, my aunt and cousin went on to explore the countryside while mom and I opted for food. Grief really can work up one’s appetite. Well, okay, some people don’t eat during tough times, but we do. My Dad, my step-father actually, was one hundred percent Italian, so though I don’t look one inch Italian, culturally, I’m a “half-breed” to quote Cher. And who doesn’t like quoting Cher?!?! And if we were going to honor my Dad over a meal, which, frankly, there could be no better way other than with music to celebrate him, then we needed to find an Italian restaurant. Whenever my Dad and I spoke on the phone, he always asked, “J’ou eat?” That’s how it sounded, and the three-hour time difference had no place in his mind. If he’d eaten dinner, I should have as well. So there we were in a town the size of a postage stamp, and I happened to find the one Italian restaurant in that tiny town nestled in the hills of Pennsylvania. It felt like a miracle.
By the time we got inside, it was mid afternoon and the place was empty. Eventually, we were greeted by a young Italian-American man, with the entire restaurant to ourselves. I ordered a calzone, and mom got Stromboli, both which ended up being the size of a large frisbee cut in half. They barely fit on the regular-sized plate.
As we dipped our Italian style quesadillas in tomato sauce, my father let us know he was near again.
I think my mother and I first took note hearing Frank Sinatra’s voice, but it was Jimmy Durante singing “You gotta laugh a little, cry a little, until the clouds roll by a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love,” which caught our hearts. This is a song many of us know from the film “Beaches,” sung by Bette Midler, but Durante was Dad’s guy, as was Sinatra. They were contemporaries, fellow musicians, and for the rest of the meal, my mom and I laughed and cried over our stuffed pizzas.
Like the song says, you gotta laugh a little, cry a little, and we did. And Dad, if you can read/hear what I’m writing, I hope they’re feeding you enough in heaven, and that they’ve got mayonnaise. And I’m gonna go eat now. It’s dinner somewhere in the world, right?
Barry Alden Clark has coached thousands of individuals in connecting more deeply with their hearts, their life purpose, and helped create a pathway for these folks to move forward in a direction more aligned with who they truly are. He & his creative partner Eliza Swords are currently delivering uplifting content on social media every Wednesday via “Best Day Ever with Barry and Eliza”, a Facebook and You-Tube phenomenon reaching thousands of people around the world. They are also inspiring love and joy through creating heartfelt and entertaining content via their production company Pure Honey Ink. Currently they have projects in development for social media, film, television and publishing. You can reach Barry at www.barryaldenclark.com.
Image courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo.