Braid of sorrow Knowing I’d be called on to eulogize Walter, our star part time employee for more than twenty-five years, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I should say at his funeral. Although none of his family had approached me, I believed that Paula, his take-charge sister, would soon call.
I didn’t mention my concern to my partner; she was too busy finishing an assignment for a demanding graduate course to be interrupted. She was in town for the weekend; hers had been a quick visit. Hours later, she would return to Connecticut.
Disturbing her was out of the question. Although I’d e-mailed messages to her, I knew she wouldn’t read them until later. Checking the Net was something she’d learned to avoid while studying. Even so, I wanted to share the news I’d just read about the tragic event in Newton. My shock at hearing about the senseless killing of tiny children was only lessened by distance; I was hundreds of miles from the carnage. She lives thirty-some minutes from the scene.
Information was slow to come. By not reporting the number of children killed, Yahoo News had caused me to hope that the gunmen had spared all but the adults. When I found how wrong I was, I wanted to share that hard news. My partner knew that area too well; I feared she may have known some of the families who’d lost little ones.
Bound by a thicket of tragedy and sadness, I was briefly comforted by the distraction of a rush of Christmas customers. My partner worked diligently; I tried to do the same.
For a few hours until time for her to leave, I did that. When I pulled away from the store to say goodbye in the parking lot, I didn’t mention Newton.
Moments later, I was told there was a call waiting for me.
“Do you have a beige shirt?” the caller asked. I knew the voice, knew what the shirt was for. I told Paula that we had what she needed.
“Be right down,” she said.
Minutes later, she was. As I handed her the bag with a dress shirt to use for Walter, she asked a favor of me. “Will you read this?” she asked, as she handed me a laminated copy of a poem I’d written for Walter in December of 1997, almost exactly fifteen years ago.
“You can do it,” she assured me, although I wasn’t at all sure. If I didn’t choke up, I’d be surprised.
“I’ll make a copy,” I said, trying to sound confident.
“No, just keep it with you until the funeral on Tuesday,” she said. She was kind and seemed much less shaken than me.
I fumbled for a response. She didn’t hesitate.
“I must get these to the funeral home,” she told me, as she patted the handsome mint green plaid suit and the shirt I’d given her that matched it perfectly.
As she left, I stared at my poem, suddenly an elegy about the days when Walter had been a brassy drum major. For decades after completing high school, the flamboyant Walter had trained teen and pre-teen girls to be his high-stepping marchers in our city’s annual Christmas parade. Whites and blacks loved him for that; many hooted and cheered as Walter led his girls down Main Street.
The poem I’d written was about the first time he’d ridden in the parade. That day, he was a celebrity who sat in a kitchen chair in the back of a pick up waving at his fans. I’d mentioned that in the final stanza.
With a sigh, I put down Walter’s poem. I had to check a text message on my cell phone. It was from my partner.
It read, “I am devastated about the news of a school shooting in Newton, 35 minutes from where I live…I knew teachers and seniors in Newton. 27 killed by a 20 year old son of a kindergarten teacher…Awful! I am sick!”
She continued. “So sad and tragic. Thinking of the fear those little kids must have felt before they died makes my heart break and cry…”
Mine too. Mine too…