Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The fourth bucket

What would Papa Bear do?

Would he have been outside, scanning the sunset sky, the ringing voices a comfortable distant blanket of sound?

Would he have sat amid the sound, soaking in the excitement of people who haven't seen each other in a long time, at least not in this number, who have come because of him?

Would he be in a corner of the expansive clubhouse in the park where he lived the last 10 years, a plastic cup of Carlo Rossi™® Burgundy in his hand, taking brief appointments with those who've come for him?

Would Barry Lewis have liked his going-away party? It's a push.

The priest had him pegged: When Barry was well enough, he'd drive DeAnn two miles early to Mass so she could practice her violin with the choir. Then he'd wait in their hulking truck — his monastery, the priest called it — until Mass began, because he didn't like to talk with anybody.

When the priest made this observation during his homily, a noise of recognition — a noise indicating "that's Dad/Barry/Papa Bear" — rose from the congregation. No ill will meant; he just chose not to schmooze.

The children who came, and their children, can schmooze to pick up the slack. Schmooze and laugh and ring the clubhouse with noise. The greatest aggregation of his children, grandchildren and family friends — perhaps since he and DeAnn sold their Auburn home and hitched the fifth-wheel — gathered last weekend in southwest Oregon for the funeral Mass and a couple of days of get-together. Barry Lewis passed away May 18 at 78.

Some stayed in a hotel in the little town. Some camped in a tree-embraced section of the park (probably where Barry would have hung out if he could). Some slept in the tool shed next Barry and DeAnn's trailer, the standard accommodation on family visits.

The family swarmed the pizza parlor in town the first night, filled the front of the little church the next morning. Grandchildren played music, read the prayers of the faithful. Daughters read the Bible verses, made the display of photographs and PowerPoint™® presentations. My wife Nancy and her sister Sharon reminisced before the final prayer, describing Barry's life in three "buckets" — family, work and the road.

Dad has reached the end of the road on this earth, Sharon said, and is looking upon us now. The priest brought up the fourth bucket, life after, which Barry believed deeply. The priest said he had hoped the journey to Heaven would be a fast trip among the stars and the vast splash of space.

Stephen and Carol shopped for food for Saturday's dinner, the last time the group would be together, Stephen supervising kitchen duties, Greg supervising cleanup. All the adult children there engaged in anxious planning, talking over one another to contribute to its success. DeAnn spent the evening quietly among her childhood friends and neighbors from the park, an eddy in the flux of dinner.

Merle Haggard sang through the night over a CD player.

Before dinner, instead of a blessing, Stephen carried out a tray of foam coffee cups. Third-oldest daughter Susan called up on her laptop a photo of Barry hoisting such a cup on a long-ago camping trip, and all raised their cups, filled with Carlo Rossi Burgundy from a gallon jug — which Barry prized above water.

Sent out to store away excess food, I made my way through the dark, across a little footbridge to the trailer. It was quiet and cool outside, the last of orange leaking out of the sky. Joan's family was setting up for the night in the shed. The trailer was illuminated by one dim light above the chair. Barry's chair in the corner is gone now, and DeAnn's is moved over to the center of that space.

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