A Place for Clem to Rest
First I need to go over to Mrs. Schoct’s house to fix the plug in her sink and while I’m there I might as well throw her recycling in the pickup since that was something Old Gus used to do but since he passed and Nance don’t drive it’s something I take care of ’cause someone needs to do it and it might as well be me. Then I need to stop by the Klopeki’s to borrow Henry’s rope and harness cuz I’m not taking any chances this time when I bring that ceiling fan down over at the church for repair cuz last time I was up there putting it up a bat came outta nowhere and scared the bejeebers outta me and all I need is to fall through the ceiling and crack my back on a pew. Happened to a guy out in Prairie du Chien once, I read about it in the Catholic Herald.
After that, we’ll see. I gotta catch up on my papers and, ugh, it’s been a few days since I spent time in the yard and I got gardens that need weeding and jeez half of ’em still got leaves in there from last fall.
It never ends.
Nance comes to the door in her nightgown and slippers and I guess she musta been watching for me through the window cuz she’s there when I walk up and it usually takes the old girl a while to get to the door cuz, as she tells me, her knees ain’t what they used to be.
“Clem,” she says, “thanks for doin’ this. I haven’t been able to wash dishes since Wednesday.”
“Yeeeah well. I’m out and about anyway, Nance, so it’s no big deal.” We’re talking extra loud cuz her TV’s on and the volume’s up as loud as it goes cuz her hearing ain’t what it used to be either. The place is a mess and stinks to high heaven cuz she’s got three cats and just one litter box among ’em to share, and it needs cleaning too and before I leave I know I’ll do that as well.
She shows me into the kitchen and Wednesday? It looks like she hasn’t been able to do dishes since Wednesday three weeks ago. Dirty plates piled half a mile high and pots white with grease and silverware soaking in milk glasses and oh boy. “Excuse the mess,” she tells me, which I get a kick of.
I’m there an hour and a quarter cuz once I get her sink fixed I find out her hot water isn’t working so I end up spending a good 45 down in her basement. Not because I spend all that time futzing with her water heater but because it takes me about that long to clear a path to it. Yeah. When Old Gus passed he left Nance with a house she has no idea how to care for and three cats that like to think they do. That’s how it is, I s’pose.
I empty the litter box and load up my truck with all her empties and am gone.
Henry lives on the south side of town and the recycling center is on the way so I stop off there first and empty out my haul of s-h-i-brown from Nance’s and who’s there but Bubbers, so I spend 15 talking to him. He invites me and Marion over for Sunday brunch after mass but I tell him Sunday’s no good because I got a shipment to deliver for Gehl and he tells me retirement is supposed to mean you don’t work no more, and I think,Yeah. We yap for a few more before I say I’m headed over to Henry’s for a harness and rope cuz I got a fan to take down at church and he tells me to say hi for him and I tell him I will and we leave without shaking hands.
Henry’s not there when I pull up but I see he’s left what I need on the front porch so I don’t have to knock and spend time talking with Clara which is fine by me cuz it means no daylight wasted. Clara’ll talk your ear off, especially so when she’s got nothin’ to say. She and Henry stop by the house every Sunday to pick up the Sunday edition of the paper and she always pops her head in even though I leave the paper hanging from the handle on the front door and she yaps and yaps about this and that and nothin’ at all, and Henry knows better which is why he just sits in his car and waits for Clara to come back out and climb in the passenger seat, and Marion always waves to them through the front window as they pull out of the driveway on their way back home with the paper I never even had time to read.
Father Dan is watering the rose bushes outside the rectory and he sees me walking up the walkway to the church’s back entrance and waves me over. His two labs are playing with tennis balls in the small fenced-in portion of his yard.
He don’t set the watering can down when I come over, just continues dousing the rose bushes with rainwater, which is a trick I taught him cuz he told me once he’d never cared for a garden before. This was back when he first got here, when he took the place of Father Leo. Now when was that? Last April I think it was. And I saw him one day watering the rose bushes with a hose and told him there’s too much iron in the well water out here and the flowers don’t like it so I showed him the barrel I’d rigged up for Father Leo beneath the gutter and he seemed mighty pleased that I told him because he said the bucket had been a mystery and now it was solved. That Father. I gave him the watering can the following Sunday cuz we couldn’t find the one I gave Father Leo, and boy we looked everywhere.
I notice the bushes need a bit of pruning but don’t say nothin’ to him about that cuz the way I figure it, I’ll just add it to my list of things to do and bring the sheers over one of these days and take care of it myself.
“Oh good, Clem, here to take care of that faulty ceiling fan that’s been out of commission the past few weeks?”
“Hiya Father. Yeah, well, Al told me he’d meet me here ’round ten so we’re gonna take ’er down and give ’er a look.”
“Sounds like a plan that’ll make God proud,” Father says.
“Well, if nothing else maybe it’ll keep the congregation a little cooler on Sunday.”
Father laughs and says, “Oh, that’s true. That’s true.”
Father’s flowers are looking good, and he indicates that even Simon and Bartholomew seem to take pleasure in them. Those are his dogs, Simon and Bartholomew. Named after two apostles.
“Oh say, Father says, have you been to the cemetery lately? We’ve got a funeral Monday and I want to make sure the lawn is a reasonable length.”
“Oh yeah? Who died?”
“You know Norm Hadwick?”
“Good ol’ Normy died!?”
“No, no. His eldest son, Martin.”
“Wasn’t he out in, what was it, out East, Trenton was it?”
“Mmm, I guess so, yeah. Yeah, a teacher of high school mathematics, Father says. From what I gather from Norm, Martin’s wife got a job transfer back to Milwaukee and they just settled in at their new place out in Richfield when his heart gave out. Such a shame! So unexpected. Only 45. But, you know, since this is where his family is, and it’s where he grew up, they decided this was the place he should be.”
“Jeekers man, that’s too bad.”
“Yeah,” says Father. “Sure is. Sure is.”
Simon—or is it Bartholomew?—is yelping cuz one of their tennis balls rolled beneath the fence and Father bends to pick it up and tosses it back.
“Well I haven’t made it over there this week yet, I say, but I s’pose I can find a little time to head over today and trim it up good.”
“Oh, that’d be great, Clem. That’d be great.”
“Yah well. I suppose I better go find Al. I’m sure he’s waiting for me inside. That fan isn’t gonna fix itself.”
I leave him smiling and head inside and there’s Al in his blue janitor’s jumper and brown work boots too speckled with white and black paint now to tell they were ever brown in the first place. We small-talk a bit about Normy’s son as we walk past the altar and genuflect and enter the sacristy where Al pulls out a ring of keys twice as round as my wrist and probably a good two and a half pounds heavy. He unlocks the small access door hidden by a good paint job courtesy of Al himself and wood paneling that matches the wall and we walk up two small flights to a storage room that opens up to another small flight and from that platform, a ladder I built back in ’82 between games six and seven of the World Series. The Brewers lost to the Cardinals but my ladder’s still holding strong.
Al leads the way and never stops talking the entire time but pauses between words more and more lengthy like with each rung because Al’s getting up there in years. When I finally make it up on Al’s heals I hook myself into the harness and rope myself to a beam that runs the length of the church the long way and Al makes a crack about it but I don’t let it bother me none cuz I’m more worried about that doggone bat from last time and about falling to my death than I am about Al’s punchline even though the old man’s already half across the church on the wooden plank that stretches the entire length of the space. He has trouble going up but boy his feet still work fine when they’re moving forward one in front of the other.
It’s 10:15 but doggone it’s already about ninety degrees up here and the sweat is starting to roll off the tip of my nose. No sign of no bat anywhere.
It takes us about twenty minutes to loosen the fan from its mooring and lower it the forty feet to the church floor with the other rope I brought along for the job. Downstairs again Al brings the fan into his workshop and tells me he’ll work some magic on the thing which frees me up to go cut the cemetery lawn.
Jeekers man, I shoulda gotten down here earlier in the week cuz the grass is halfway to my knee. It’s been five or six years since they buried somebody in this cemetery instead of the one down on 28. Francine D’Maggo was the last one. She was 86 when she died but her plot had been bought and paid for a good 20 years earlier because her husband was 14 years her elder and when he died, naturally she bought the plot next to him. But I don’t think she had any idea she’d last those 14 years when he passed. Either way, the grass is long. Jeekers.
I straighten some of the old headstones that’ve taken to leaning and rearrange others that have broken off completely. Before I fire up the ol’ John Deer, I walk over to the spot where I want to be buried.
A few years back the city bought about fifty yards of the cemetery’s unused land to make a parking lot and garage for their newest municipal vehicles and so there’s just one plot left that sits at the cemetery’s edge along the road and that’s right where I want to be buried ’cause I think it would be nice to watch the traffic go by.
I don’t know why I’ve never done this before. I lay down on the plot. The Saturday traffic flows past and every once in a while a car will honk and it’s probably somebody I know wondering why in the world I’m laying down in a cemetery cuz they’ve never seen me lying down anywhere but here I am and this where I’ll be.
Marion insisted we go to the funeral because even though we didn’t know his son we know Normy well enough. And that besides, we go to funerals at least one every other week and we owe it to his family. Father gives a nice homily and Marion tears up like she always does and to be honest I get a little teary-eyed myself but I don’t think nobody notices because they’re all wrapped up in their own sort of way. That’s what happens at a funeral. It’s hotter in here than it ought to be cuz I notice Al don’t have the fan fixed yet, and I suppose if he did he woulda called me and we woulda had it up for today’s service cuz jeekers man it’s hot.
They load up the hearse which circles around the parking lot as if it’s the staging area for a parade which I suppose it is in a way but because the cemetery’s so close the people just flow into the street walking behind it on foot. We normally wouldn’t go to the burial and just call it quits after the ceremony but since it’s just down the street and everybody else seems to be going Marion and I just follow everyone over there and the pace is just right for Marion who had her knees replaced five months ago and still walks like she’s gonna come undone any second.
Father drops back and thanks me for cutting the lawn.
“Yeah well. No problem,” I say.
Marion says, “I really loved your homily, Father, what you said about the … about the, how he was a lamp of learning er whatever for all those kids he taught. I thought that was so nice.”
“Aww, thank you, Marion. It’s nice to see you and Clem come out and pay your respects like this. It sure is a good turnout.”
“Yes it was, Father,” she says. “It sure was.”
At the cemetery I notice the people are gathering near the place where I was lying down just the other day and jeekers man the hole wasn’t dug then but it’s dug now. Sure enough, that’s the spot where Normy’s kid’s gonna be buried. Doggone. Normy’s kid. They’re loading the coffin onto the lift and Father’s saying something and suddenly the coffin’s being lowered and that’s it. It’s over just like that. The people are leaving and Marion leaves too walking back to the church for a small lunch in the basement, hammies and vegetables and dessert, and she’s talking to one of her friends so she don’t notice I’m not by her side. And now they’re filling the hole with dirt. How do you like that.
When I get home there’s a message on the machine. It’s Al. He’s fixed the fan and wants me back at church to put it up again. Jeekers man. I’ve already returned Henry’s rope and harness. But oh well. I didn’t see no bat last time I was up there and I don’t wanna waste no more time going back over there and picking it up again to risk Clara talking my ear off. I got better things to do today besides that. But that fan ain’t gonna hang itself, and Al sure ain’t gonna hang it without me. So I better get a move on.