Last night I went to the visitation of an old friend of mine. Let's call him George. He was in the Optimist Club with me, and was my mentor, so there was no way I could get out of going.
I'm not big on visitations, you know, where you view the deceased. I don't think it's a Unitarian thing, at least I never remember one as a kid. We're more the 'burn 'em and urn 'em' types.
There were a lot of other folks from our club there and we stood around and told stories about George and the things he had done. He was the resident pessimist in the club, and as such, will be sorely missed. At a certain point I went over to one of George's sons to offer my condolences. He's a nice man, and we chatted briefly, and then I guess he assumed I would want to view his dad, and so he sort of shooed me into the viewing room. I didn't want to duck out, so I walked up to the casket and looked.
George looked very, umm, well, dead, which was to be expected, I suppose. Normally the people in coffins look a bit more like waxed fruit and I guess that's what I was expecting, so it was a bit of a shock. There was another man also viewing George just to my left. He turned to me, stuck out his hand and said "Hullo, I'm Alan H. How did you know George?" (The names here have been changed a bit... Perhaps.) I said that we were in the same club. He told me that he and his parents had rented some property from George over on 6th Street. "My parents were So and So H. and Such and Such H. Did you know them?" he asked. I allowed as how the names sounded familiar. His father, he told me, was a famous physicist. "Ahh," I said, having no idea why the name was familiar but that wasn't it.
He said that, in their decline, his parents had lived in a nursing home. They had died in 2000 within five months of one another! George used to come visit them. There was a 95-year-old woman in the nursing home named Laverne, which is only odd because George's wife is/was named Laverne. One day Alan asked George if he wanted to meet 95-year-old Laverne. "There's only one Laverne in my life," George told him.
The whole time we were having this long and somewhat bizarre conversation I pretty much had to stare at George. The very dead George in his coffin. It was either that or stare at Alan, and, frankly, I didn't want to encourage him. I wanted to run. Finally I had the brains to look to the other side and saw a long line of people waiting for their chance to view George. A very long line of polite people, people unwilling to interrupt the tete a tete that Alan and I were earnestly having in front of the coffin. And I knew one of the people in the line, another Optimist, and could turn to Alan and say "Dear me, I see a friend I must go say "Hullo!" to, " and dash off.
It was only when I'd entirely escaped the funeral home and was driving home that it occurred to me that the reason the name 'H.' sounded familiar was that this very same man had buttonholed me at Laverne's funeral five years ago, where we'd had a very similar conversation.