When the preacher referred to our aunt Mabel as Hazel the first time, we pallbearers studied our shoes, or in some cases, boots. The names were similar sounding, and maybe we had heard him wrong. When he said it the second time, we squirmed in our seats a little, but dared not look at each other. When he said it the third and fourth time, we knew for certain that the preacher did not know the first name of the person in the casket in front of him.
Though she grew up in this area, Aunt Mabel spent almost all of her adult life in Fort Worth. She was a widow with no children and the ravages of time had destroyed most of her mental faculties and crippled her physically. Her only surviving sibling, a sister, brought her back home to make sure she was cared for properly in a facility near her.
Thus, there was no reason to think that she ever attended services at this preacher’s church. I figured he might have visited her in the long-term-care facility where she had spent her final years, but there was no other reason to think that he knew her. Still, her correct name was readily available on the small funeral cards we all held in our hands. Maybe the preacher was not given one.
After loading the casket into the hearse we pallbearers, nephews and great nephews all, crammed ourselves into the limo and waited silently and respectfully to follow the hearse to the cemetery. While they were loading the flowers, one of us squirmed. With timing reminiscent of Johnny Carson or Jonathan Winters, Tim spoke softly; reluctantly; almost under his breath; with no hint of sarcasm or wit; pitifully, as if some great secret had been kept from him since childhood, “And all this time . . . I thought her name was Mabel.”
I don’t think we fully recognized the humor in the situation until Tim uttered his comment. I feel certain he did not purposely do it with perfect comedic timing, but well, he did. The suppressed laughter we dared not think of during the services emerged into full-throated guffaws and cackles. We all laughed till the tears ran. I hope the windows were tinted on that limo and that folks did not see what many would deem disrespectful. Still, I always remember those moments with the limo actually shaking. I’m sure it did not.
I’m equally sure that Aunt Mabel would have laughed loudest and longest. She had a laugh that is hard to describe. The peals of laughter that emerged from her would sometimes frighten small children, but were infectious to most adults. She found humor in most situations, and I know she found it in this one. We nephews still laugh about it today.