Last week I flew back home to Grand Rapids Michigan to attend the funeral of my old high school chemistry teacher Mr. Heidelberg. Aside from that time I accidentally bumped into him and Mrs. Heidelberg, sneaking out of the adult section of Hollywood Video, with a VHS tape titled: Big Black Bitches in Heat (Volume 16); he was always a pretty nice guy in my book. And judging from the look in both of their eyes that night, they must’ve really seen something they liked in volumes 1 thru 15. Because of my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s, and her somewhat aggressive temperament; someone has to be with her at all times. She goes into a huge cursing fit if you don’t feed her every single hour. It’s not that she’s hungry at all; she just simply keeps forgetting that she already ate. Since her last day-nurse quit after being whacked in the back of the head with an IKEA catalog, for apparently not making her grilled cheese with tomato sandwich fast enough; and everyone else in the family was conveniently “busy” that day; I by default was stuck babysitting. As a result, I had no choice but to take her along to the funeral with me. Believe me when I say, I was really not happy with this arrangement. But what was I going to do, leave her by herself?
By the time we finally arrived at the funeral home it was already extremely crowded. I had no idea old Gabe knew so many damn people. There was even a news van parked out front. It was like he and Mrs. Heidelberg were the Jay Z & Beyonce of their synagogue. Once inside, I realized that there was no way that I could navigate my grandmother’s walker between those long narrow pews. So with no other choice, I left her in the back of the room in the space they designated for handicapped patrons. I explained to her that I would be right back, and then took the only available seat I could see, which was about 20 rows up. By the time I excused and pardoned myself to the middle of the crowded pew, the service was just beginning. A last, I would be able to pay my final respects to my favorite teacher. As far as teacher’s go, they just don’t come any nicer.
I had never been to a Jewish funeral before, and I can honestly say it was like none I had ever seen. It almost felt foreign. Looking around the room I couldn’t help but think, “Hey… where are all of the crazy cousins hollering and screaming at the top of their lunges, or the fat aunt trying to hurl herself inside of the casket? Where is the smell of burnt macaroni & cheese coming from the kitchen in the basement, or all the family members from Mississippi outside taking pictures in front of the Limousine?” Instead it was very quiet and professional. Sort of like an Amway conference at the Comfort Inn. Even the rabbi spoke just above a whisper, which confused the hell out of me. After all I thought, “What were we going to do, wake him?”
About twenty minutes into the service, I could literally not believe my ears. In an all too familiar voice, I heard someone call out “Brett” from the back of the room. “Oh God no… this cannot be happening!” I thought, “There is no way in hell that my grandmother is back there calling out my name in the middle of a funeral.” I thought again, I’m sure it was just my imagination. After all, it had been an extremely exhausting morning, spending nearly forty five minutes trying to convince her that she would surely be arrested, if she didn’t come in from out on her 5th floor terrace with no clothes on. With that said, I was no doubt that I was probably just hearing things. Suddenly, about three minutes later, in the middle of the rabbi’s sermon I heard it again, only this time a little louder…“Brett.” I swear, as God is my witness, I could’ve just died right then and there. I thought, “Why in the fuck is this woman calling out my name?”
By now I could slowly start to hear the murmur building in the room, as people literally stopped mourning to figure out what in the hell is going on. In that moment I just wanted to melt under my pew. I was absolutely torn because from where I sat, there was no way possible for me to get to her, without stopping the entire service and bringing all kind of attention to myself. I tried my best to even shoot her a threatening glare across the room; but I could see from the way she was looking around that she had no idea where I was. Since the funeral would be over shortly, I figured that if I just ignore it she’ll have no choice but to stop. When the lady sitting beside me asked what all the commotion was, I just replied “Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s some crazy Black lady back there.” I then began nervously studying the obituary page, as if Mr. Heidelberg was going to give one final pop quiz when it was done.
Moments later, the rabbi asked that we all bow our heads as he led us in prayer. Suddenly in the middle of the prayer, at the top of my grandmother’s lungs she yells out “BRETT!!! Nigga you hear me calling you!!” I completely shrieked. With my eyes still closed I just begged for the Lord to take me now. When I finally opened my eyes, everyone in the entire room was looking directly at me. Since her and I were the only two Black people in the building, I guess they eventually put two and two together. The rabbi then looked directly at me, and in that soft voice said into the microphone, “Uhm… I take it you’re Brett? I think someone back there wants you.” Stuck in the middle of the crowded pew, I had no choice but to respond back to her from my seat. With both us literally yelling back and forth across the crowded room; the following is the exact transcript of our conversation:
Me: Uhm… Hi Grandma, I’m over here. What do you need?
Grandma: I’m ready to go!
Me: Uhm…okay Grandma, we’re actually almost done here! Can you maybe just wait a few minutes?
Grandma: Wait my ass, I’m hungry! I want a hamburger!
Me: Grandma, we can get you a hamburger as soon as we leave. But do we really have to talk about this now? I mean… we are at a funeral!
Grandma: Nigga I don’t give a damn where we at! These honkies ain’t talkin’ about shit no way! I said…I’m ready to go! I want me a hamburger!
I guess after finally hearing all the poor guy could take, the rabbi finally interjected and said softly into the microphone, “Brett… I think she really does want that hamburger.” The next thing I knew, they had paused the entire funeral service to let me out of the crowded pew. I guess they figured anything to get the crazy ass Black lady out of the building. Never in my whole life have I been so embarrassed; including that time I was getting out of the shower when I was nine, and my dad walked in and caught our dog Pete licking my penis. In my defense, Pete was a gay terrier and had been trying to seduce me for months.
And can you believe that on our way walking back to the car, after being dejected from the funeral for the world to see, with all the news cameras still flashing at us; my grandmother actually had the nerve to say, “That sure was really was a nice funeral… wasn’t it?”