There’s lots of green, and it’s very bright, and that seems wrong. My head feels like a beehive, and there’s a slight hum, from crying or maybe gritting my teeth. There are lots of words, most of them heartfelt but they just seem empty. My grandma looks very small, which I’ve never noticed before. Then again, everything seems insignificant today. She sits just a row in front of me, a tissue crumpled in her hand, and my mother and her sisters perched on either side of her. My uncle sits at the end of my row, just behind them, with a hand on my mother’s shoulder. Somehow, I’ve never thought of them as kids before. They’ve never been brothers and sisters to me; until today, I only ever knew them as aunts and uncles.
The space between my mother and I is physical now, and I wonder how we are supposed to find each other again without Grandpa there to be the buffer between us. I remember the night we got the news. How it felt to have my mother need me just as much as I needed her. And I remember feeling a little left out as she called my aunts and uncle, just a few hours later. Because she had a greater claim to Grandpa than I ever would. She’s his daughter. No matter how many fish I catch, or cribbage games I win, they’d belong to each other more than they ever would to me. Today though, that kind of thinking seems small and petty.
They talk a lot about God and Heaven, and normally that would irritate me, but Grandpa believed, so it seems right. It must be okay, for today at least, to pray to a God that I don’t really believe in. I don’t know why I don’t believe. My mind just doesn’t work that way because I’m too much like my father. He thinks church is a waste of a Sunday morning, but I’ve never actually heard him say he doesn’t believe. Dad’s a private person, but I know he’s been thinking about all this lately. Just a year ago, his mother was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s just like God to keep those who suffer alive, but take those who loved and lived as the Bible commands. I do wish that I could have what Grandpa had, though. Blind, unadulterated faith that everything would work out in the end.
On my right, my little brother sits rigid, staring at his hands in his lap. His eyes are a little red-rimmed, and there’s a few wet spots on the front of his dress shirt. We bought it new for him before we came, because he’d already outgrown the one he wore for his baseball banquet. The banquet was only a few weeks after he played his last game of golf with Grandpa. I wish I could see those memories from inside his head, from his own perspective. I wish he could see mine too, because I want him to understand what Grandpa meant to me. I want to steal everyone’s memories and perceptions and put them together like a puzzle, a full snapshot of Grandpa and his role on this earth.
The chaplain closes his little red Bible. There’s a shout, and seven men in uniform fire their rifles in unison. The sound is more like a firework than a gun shot, but I don’t flinch. A tear falls and I sit straighter. There’s another shot from the men, but again, no flinch. My chin comes up and Grandma seems to notice as she glances over at my brother and I. The last round, another shout, then everybody is silent. My tears blur red, white, and blue with rich mahogany as the edges of the flag flutter on top of the casket. A man in uniform behind the chaplain raises a trumpet to his lips as two more move to the head and foot of the casket. The trumpet belts out the painfully familiar starting note of Taps, the flag comes up off the curved surface of the casket. Beside me, my brother’s shoulders start to shake. I hear him sniffle, and without a word he slips his palm beneath mine and intertwines our fingers. I hold on.
To me, this part seems so sad. My grandma, my mother, and my aunts and uncle all watch with tears running down, as they fold the flag. The trumpet falls away as they tuck in the last corner. I wonder why I’ve never seen any pictures of my grandfather in uniform. Why he never talked about Korea, or Vietnam. Why the only time we ever heard stories about that time in his life was when his buddy Flip came to visit. I understand the shadow surrounding the memories of those wars, the bad taste those stories might have left in his mouth. But it makes me wonder if he thought we weren’t proud of him.
A uniform presents the flag and three casings to my grandma, with a few words. His words seem to stick with me. “Each of these three casings stands for something: Duty, honor, and country.” Three words that seem as sturdy as Grandpa. I look around and see what Grandpa saw. Four generations of the Chapman family, and their own families. All of us drifting apart, all the time, distance, and differences between us. And yet, we all know instinctively just how we fit together. I see what he built, what he raised from the ground up. I see what he was proud of, what I am proud of.
Kelly Castillo is a Civil Engineering student looking for a creative outlet and a little extra cash.