Only I would review a funeral!
We buried my long-time friend Allan Jackson yesterday. Alas, one less member of my diminishing group of old friends. It's starting to feel like a version of the Baatan Death March for Sissies.
The service was held at Metropolitican Baptist Church in Alta Dena (CA). I’ve never been to a black Baptist funeral before. I guess I can still experience “firsts” — even at my age. For someone who was born and raised a devout Catholic, slowing morphing to lapsed Catholic, then recovering Catholic, and, finally, rabid anti-Catholic, I must say this was a totally unique experience for me. As you can imagine the service was a long way from the gaudy, solemn ritual of requiem mass to which I've become accustomed over many years and many funerals.
The entire front row was composed of very white Mormons. Roy’s family drove in from Utah to support him in his time of loss. The second row seemed to be composed of what few blood relatives of Allan remained. I found it interesting that two of the country’s most perceived homophobic religions had come together to honor a gay man whose kindness, gentleness and love could surpass the faith-based nonsense & bigotry incorporated in their belief systems. In this church, on this day, we were all one in love and respect for a lost friend.
Former fellow poker club member, Howie, was one of the pallbearers. He looked very uneasy in his white gloves because this was probably the first time he’d been in a church since he was dunked in a cold baptismal font. Wow! Someone even less Catholic than I.
As the service began, I kept waiting for all the “hootin’ and hollerin’” I've heard so much about with Baptist fundamentalism. Everyone was very dignified ... except a member or two in the choir who would stand up, shout somethng, wave their hands in the air and sit down. The choir as a group was fine but the soloists were [to me] just dreadful. The male singer’s voice was [again, to me] extremely grating, like fingernails on a blackboard; and the female singer quite frankly could not carry a tune in a brass collection basket, bless her heart. That, too, was disappointing and completely destroyed the stereotype of gospel choirs as breeding grounds for future blues & hip hop stars. I expect no emergence of another Aretha Franklin or Al Green to come from this group.
Another lady walked up to the podium and began reading letters of praise from what seemed to be every Baptist Church in the county. She was barely laudable past the second row. The reading went on until my ass bones began to ache. We all know he was an exemplary human being, but most of my group here doesn't have all that much time left above ground. I leaned over and whispered to Gee & Richard “if she doesn’t stop reading those things soon, I'm going to go up there and rip them up, screaming ‘read this, bitch!’” The preacher spent too much time talking about himself and never once mentioned Allan’s life partner of 39 years, Roy Harris. My ballsy friend Richard called him on it at the cemetery (where the preacher actually forgot the words to The Lord's Prayer. Oy veh!). He said something like, “Oh, didn’t I?”
Then, it got down. The preacher began to preach and the audience began to get into it. People began praising and shouting and calling the name of the Lord! Then the preacher shifted into first gear and worked up a holy sweat. A lady sitting behind Korie & Miss Miller began to drown out the rest of the church with her shouting and praising. I looked over and saw poor Miss Korie with fingers shoved deeply into both ears as the lady behind him turned up the volume and flailing of hands. “OK... now we were beginning to rock,” thought I. The lady jumped up from her seat and ran into the aisle shouting and testifying until she reached the front row of mourners. All eyes were on her. She actually began to strut like a rooster, flapping her elbows back. I loved it. No Dies Irae, Dies Illa here. The only thing I understood from her testimony was that she was “80 years old and Jesus had touched her” (I assume not inappropriately). I could imagine Roy slinking down into his seat as his Utah family watched her transfixed. Roy later said that Allan had specifically requested that none of this carrying-on go on. But when the spirit moves you, ya gotta go with it. Hallelujah!
After Allan’s coffin was lowered into the ground at Forest Lawn of Hollywood, we all returned to our cars for the trip back to the church for a delicious repast of fried chicken and all the fixin’s. During the meal, people were supposed to give reminiscences of Allan. Gee and I were ready with our prepared speeches but never got to give them. I guess they were afraid we were going to tell too much. Smile. I must admit that I felt a deep tinge of sadness in my throat as the procession left the cemetery leaving Allan, a once vibrant human being, behind. I still choke up when I think how we must eventually abandon those we love so dearly to a cold grave and move on with our lives.
At least, for a few hours, the love of one gentle soul brought two homophobic religions & cultures together. Sometimes setting a good example does more than confrontation for acceptance as equal human beings. This was obviously one of those times.