Not always. My father was in the burial vault business—the manufacture and delivery of burial vaults. Depending on how many funerals he had in one day, he might go on a funeral himself, as we called it. He and an employee could only make one funeral in a day, and if he had four or five on the same day, employees scattered in different directions with the vaults.
This was in my young days, and sometimes I went with him. That might have been the first time in my life I started observing people, and if you don’t think you get diversity at a funeral, come along with me.
This funeral was forty miles or so south of Atlanta. When my Dad arrived he found the grave where the vault was to go surrounded by other occupied graves. No problem. He and an employee could hook the half-circle piece of metal on the end of the boards onto the metal frame that went around the bed of the truck, extend the boards across the occupied graves without touching them, attach the vault to an electric wrench, and as in many times before, the vault would roll down the boards, and be in the grave in only a few minutes.
But wait. Here comes the country cemetery caretaker. No my Dad could not cross occupied graves with the necessary boards even though they did not touch the graves. The very presence of the boards over an occupied grave was sacrilege.
Dad argued with him to no avail. So we sat down to wait for the arrival of the funeral procession. The hearse was in the lead, and the funeral director saw the vault not in the grave, and stopped the procession as much out of site as he could.
The funeral director was about to tell my Dad off in chosen words God did not want to hear in this place on this day. My Dad explained the situation, and pointed out the cemetery caretaker. The funeral director went over and read the riot act to him, and posthaste my dad and the employee had the vault in the grave, and the funeral proceeded without further ado.
Oddities do happen at funerals. The one that stands out in my mind in the last twenty years is one I attended at Elmwood in Birmingham. It was a graveside service, or at least that’s what I thought it was. There had been no prior service at the funeral home or a church. I did notice the preacher held no Bible in his hands, but I figured he had done so many funerals, he even had the appropriate scripture memorized. After everyone had gathered around the grave, he spoke.
He gave the deceased’s name, and said the deceased wanted no formal ceremony, and only wished for those present to say what they thought about him. Nobody but the immediate family and the preacher knew about this. There was absolute silence. I thought the preacher would go to Plan B, but apparently the preacher had no Plan B.
Finally I spoke up. The deceased was a stockbroker, and I said, “He was honest, and he was a friend.” That took the padlock off other people’s words, and what they said was indeed a tribute to him.
The funeral most prominent in my mind when my Dad was in the burial vault business was in one of the outlying smaller cemeteries. If there is such a thing as a good day for a funeral, this was it. A fall day had taken the heat out of the air. The sun was glowing brilliantly. Tranquil surroundings. Then the funeral procession arrived.
One requirement all funeral directors had was that my Dad, or if only employees were at the funeral, they had to stand in the background, and wait for the funeral to come to an end, the people gathered to return to their cars and leave, and then for Dad or employees if he was not there, to put the lid on the vault. The lip of the vault had an asphalt sealant on it, and the groove in the vault lid had to slide in place. Sometimes to make sure the seal was effective, someone would actually get in the grave, and walk around the outer edge of the lid to make sure of the seal. This meant an additional forty-five minutes or an hour at the cemetery, but Dad or his employees didn’t mind, because they wanted it done right.
Vaults are rarely uncovered once the burial is completed. Perhaps an exhumation of the body in a criminal situation, but other than that rarely ever. My Dad took pride in the fact that his vaults would never allow water to seep in or collapse.
He had two kinds of vaults—concrete and asphalt. Some people still had the impression that there was enough porosity in concrete that they would leak, and preferred an asphalt vault. The asphalt was sandwiched in between two layers of concrete on the bottom of the vault, the sides, the ends, and in the lid as well.
My Dad used patented vault molds bought from a company in Detroit, and that company had already tested the vaults hundreds of times under possible, highly destructive methods. They never failed as long as their specs were followed in the making of the vault. And my Dad strictly adhered to the specs.
So the funeral procession had arrived on this perfect day for a funeral. We are standing far enough from the grave not to be intrusive, which made us too far away to hear what was being said. We had been to so many calm funerals, that didn’t really matter. In a matter of a few minutes the funeral would be over, and we would be bound for home.
I could observe the normal range of people’s actions. The immediate family was sitting in chairs, and was very concerned about the deceased. Some relatives were standing behind them in various stages of emotion, a couple of them seeming to wish for a two-minute funeral so they could grab a hamburger on the way home. Then friends gathered around the other portion of the grave, one not so much concerned about the deceased as he was staring at his shoelace and wondering if he should tie it or wait until everything was concluded.
It was obvious the preacher said a few words. Then there must have been a split faction in regards to the deceased. A member of one faction lit into what the preacher said. A member of the second faction lit into what the member of the first faction lit into the preacher about. Then there was all out civil war.
Had I been the funeral director I would have asked the pallbearers to take the casket back to the hearse, and told everyone I would be back later when everyone had gone home.
Finally a couple of people who must not have been members of either faction stepped in to make peace, and the poor fellow was finally laid to rest, and I use that term in a not too positive manner.
Yes, there is much to be learned about people at funerals. The deceased in this case only wished they had learned it before they got to the cemetery.