The Funeral Trip – February 1991 Part I

Uncle Bob is dead at the age of 74 years and 9 months. Robert Gould (Bob) Early was laid to rest next to his daughter, Paulette (Poppy) Early Dixson who died at 43, his grandson, Jamie, who died at six. His body was interned at Sunset Memorial Park in San Antonio, Texas, on Monday, February 4th, 1991. He was formerly owner and manager of the Park. His death was a relief to himself and for his family arid friends, since he had been very ill for more than a year.

When I raw him in November of 1990, he was just a shell of a man. The agonizing wait is over. I can recall back a year ago, when I felt as though I were a flight attendant on stand-by call duty. Many times the phone rang when I would anticipate the bad news. It was an anxious time. Finally we all just said “To heck with it”, and decided to go on with our lives. Case in point: Mom, Pattie Rose, and I decided to meet in Colorado last June for the wedding of cousin John Farris’ daughter. Then I just kept on movin’ up the Continental Divide for the rest of the summer. Can’t hang around forever. However, I’m thankful I was home at Mom’s house when the call came from Pattie Rose Saturday night. It’s kind of weird. I had this intuition that was what she was calling about.

I decided to drive instead of taking a 55 minute Southwest Airline flight. Ever since this Iraq mess reared its ugly head, I have developed an aversion to airports. That’s not the primary reason, though. I really felt like hittin’ the road again, even though it had only been 16 days since I had returned from my Far East (eastern United States) odyssey.

I spent those two weeks doing minor servicing on Ol’ Baleau, like rotating the tires and doing little nit-pickin’ improvements on the interior. She was ready and I was ready. I quickly packed and headed south on I-35 about 2 P.M. Saturday. It was an uneventful drive, as I had expected, except for a downpour near Austin, a halfway stop at the old reliable parking space in Temple, and a chit-chat with a Minnesota man at a rest area.

I couldn’t help but notice the midwest RV’s passing me on their way to the warm beaches of South Padre Island. The Great Escape from the Ice Age. The scene was reminiscent of two winters ago in Florida along I-75 which funnels thousands of Yankee refugees from the frozen tundra of the ice belt to the golden sea-ducing beaches of southern Florida. The Minnesotan was a likeable chap who said that he enjoyed shopping at flea markets, just to get away from the old lady. It occurred to me that Canton’s First Sunday had just showboated its monthly extravaganza. I asked him if he happened to be at the right place at the right time. He, “Yea, that was the biggest and best flea market I’ve ever been to.” I said, “Well, that’s Texas.”

I arrived at the “Roman Villa” in Alamo Heights at 11 AM, Monday. As I entered the house, it was déjà-vu. It was December, 1985, when the tragic death of cousin Poppy had stunned everyone. The cause of her death was defined as “massive internal complications”. And there was uncle Bob, sitting on the couch in a state of shock. I don’t think that he ever really recovered from that terrible experience. And now, a little more than six years later, I was entering the same setting — a house full of mourners. Only the mood was different. There was a feeling of acceptance that Robert Early was now finally resting in peace, rather than enduring suffering here on earth. I didn’t feel that there was any need for those common communications such as, “It’s so sad”, or “I’m so sorry”, etc., etc.

I felt fortunate to ride in the same funeral limo with Jack Creighton, Uncle Bob’s close friend since they were classmates at Texas A. & M. in the mid-thirties. It was so wonderful listening to him as he related stories of the two of them playing as doubles partners on the A. & M. tennis team. He said that Bobby was a feisty competitor on any given day. I was really enjoying my rapport with him as we talked tennis. Jack C. had a way of putting me at ease. We were remembering the good times of a good man. I figured that’s what this occasion was all about.

Later on at the house, Jack said that Bob didn’t just have a few good friends, but that he had many close friends. When Bob called someone a friend, that person knew that Bob would give the shirt off his back for him.

We arrived at the Sunset Memorial Park and filed in to the family area of the chapel. While waiting for friends, and there was a bunch of them to pay their respects and condolences and take their seats, I indulged myself in some family reflections. That is, I was chronologically going back to the first ancestral funeral that I could remember. That was Grandmother Early (Serena) in 1960. I never knew my grandfather, William White Early, who died in 1928, leaving my Dad, age 14, uncle Bob, age 12, and aunt Pattie Rose, age 6, fatherless just before the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.

Fortunately their mother was a strong-willed woman, who helped carry them through those hard times. As I understand it, the two boys took it upon themselves to assist in any way they could. I think they called it resourcefulness.

I can vividly remember the slight trepidation that swirled through my small body when it was announced that we were going to take the train to Waco to visit grandmother Serena. (We lived in Corpus Christi at the time, during World War II). I loved the trip by train, but doggone it, I was going to be the only male there, besides having the wrath of that mean old lady come down on me. She was so dadgum prim and proper, and stern to boot. She was petite, but could she be heard! Don’t get me wrong. I was only five and six years young at the time. Give me a break. I now have only the finest admiration for that woman.

About the same time, my grandfather, “PawPaw” Guy Brown (Mom’s dad), died in Lubbock while I was in school at Texas Tech. Franz and I were pallbearers at his funeral. Then Grandmother Brown passed away in 1975; Uncle Connie (Mom’s brother-in-law) died a few years later; and Aunt Guyon succumbed to cancer in 1983. I don’t mean to dwell on these terminating dates. What I was really concerned with was how all the pieces of the big family picture fit together. That is: who was still living at the time of these deaths?; how old were they?; what were they doing? who was being born?; how do our relationships with each other fare now?; and so on. It was quite sobering to think about. I’m glad I took the time to do so.

There was an intimate gathering around the coffin before internment in the wall vault. The Rev. Edwin Wathall said a prayer and gave a short eulogy. The final words rattled my memory of Dad’s memorial in 1979: “He shall live in perpetuity”. That was enough. God bless you, Uncle Bob, your life will live on through others.