Well, Is He Dead?

“Please come over, now. Come now.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I think he’s dead.”

“Who’s dead?”

My mother was a widow for three decades when she decided to remarry. She had known “Doc” for many years and they lived in the same subdivision in our town. My brother and I were grown and so was his son. As far as we were concerned it was fine with us. Dad died from a massive heart attack when I was in the third grade. I regret not getting to know him better, but I certainly did not begrudge mom’s marriage.

I used to tell this joke – but never in front of my mother. They were much older when they remarried. The first night of their honeymoon Doc reached over and patted mom’s hand. She patted his and they went to sleep. The second night Doc reached over and patted mom’s hand and she patted his and then they dozed off to sleep. On the third night, Doc reached for her hand and she pulled back, “Not tonight, Doc. I’ve got a headache.”

She would have killed me if she had heard it. And, deservedly so. The thought of my mother having sex makes my brain hurt. Bad. Our house was a proper southern residence in a nice subdivision. It sat on a nice lot. We had a large yard. We had a pool. We had a maid. Sex was not discussed at 4503 Kendall Avenue. Not ever. I never asked…except for the boys in the neighborhood. I learned about sex in the time honored way….listening to the lies of my friends.

My wife and I had been married six years before our first child was born. I was nervous when we went to tell my mother. She sort of looked at me funny and skewered her head sideways.

“Mother, I don’t know how this happened. I swear, I never laid a hand on her!” I actually said that, and she said, “Wesley.” My mother could say my name like an accusation, and, as southern women do, she stretched out the two syllables into three or four. Weesslleyyy… I can hear it now and some twenty plus years after her death (I hate that silly word passing), it still makes me cringe. I am cringing now as I write this.

“I think Doc’s dead.” She said as she opened the front door for me.

“Mother, what do you mean you think he’s dead. Either he’s dead or he’s not dead. So which is it?”

“I don’t know. He wouldn’t drink his coffee.”

Silly me. After all, in high school science class in Mississippi they teach us if a person in the south won’t drink coffee he is dead. As they say in poker, it’s a tell.

She pointed to the bedroom where Doc slept. I admit I was a little relieved he was sleeping in a different room from my mother. But, it was my room. That is the room where I grew up. Wet my bed – once or twice only. My damn bedroom. Mine. All my childhood memories are in that room and Mother has a dead guy in my bedroom. Oh, the indignity of it all.

Just then a neighbor came over. “I think Doc is dead.” Mother reported to her neighbor. Please, please mother don’t tell her he is in my bedroom. Several other people showed up.

One lady who came over actually said, “I heard you think Doc is dead.”

“We think so.”she replied.

My brother showed up at last. “Tommie. I think Doc is dead.” She told him. She always called him Tommie, not Tom, not Thomas, not Tommy, but Tommie. It’s on his birth certificate spelled like a girl. He always hated the spelling. When Tom was a practicing attorney he had his name changed to the somewhat more dignified Thomas. Of course, we never told mother about it.

My brother got me aside and asked what I thought. “Well, brother, the consensus seem to be that a lot of people at this house think Doc is dead. I’m waiting for something more definitive . You want some coffee?”

My old aunt “Dede” arrived in a huff. She was one of a kind. When southern women reach a certain age and are unburdened by dead husbands who have blessed them with ample life insurance proceeds, they tend to be somewhat outspoken. Dede was such a lady. She was refined, but down to earth. Truth is she was downright “earthy”. She detested hypocrisy, religious nuts who knocked on her door and tried to convert her, and politicians of all ilks and persuasions. Her house was on the beach and she survived Hurricane Camille riding on her mattress hanging onto her dog and clinging to the upper reaches of her bedroom window as the swirling dark waters rose from the Gulf and destroyed her home. She was one tough lady and she loved me as I loved her.

“Emile (my mother), what the hell is going on here?”

“Oh, Virginia (Dede), I thing Doc is dead.” My mother whined.”

Just about then the real doctor came out of the bedroom. He turned to all of us in the den and solemnly said, “Well, I think Doc is dead.”

Just as Dede was about to explode she said, “Even the damn doctor can’t tell us if he’s dead. Damn it. I’ve got a hair appointment. When somebody finds out if the old SOB is really dead, y’all call me.” And, with a huff she flew out of the house. My wife gave me a look. I gave her a look. We knew to remain quiet.

Not that I didn’t trust the official opinion of a medically trained person, but since there had apparently been some debate about the subject, I sneaked into the bedroom to see for myself. Oh yeah. If there ever was a dead looking person he was that person. Morbid curiosity.

At the funeral Aunt Dede sat with my mother. The church was full. Just as the coffin was being wheeled out of the church, my mother looked at Dede. “I don’t think I’ll go to the gravesite.”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Emile, you married the old bastard and you’re going to the grave. The very idea.” Dede had spoken. My God, everyone in the church heard her. Eyes turned and got very wide, but no one chastised her. I was kinda thinking about not going to the gravesite myself, but I knew better than to risk her wrath. By the way, as a good Catholic, Dede often invoked Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Sometimes she added “and all the saints in between”.

I’m a Presbyterian and we don’t usually make a big fuss about the saints and such. Presbyterians don’t say Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in one breath, much less all the saints in between. I’m not making fun. Half my family is Catholic and the other half Protestant. We don’t allow atheists or Holy Roller Primitive Baptists in the family. No offense, of course. It simply isn’t done, as my mother would say.

My other aunt, Betty, had a problem with dead husbands. She lived in New Orleans where due to the high water levels the deceased is buried above ground in a crypt. Husband number one died and she bought a crypt and planned on being buried next to him. Although it had three slots, she got a bargain on it. Hummm?

When husband number two died some years later, Aunt Betty put her plan into action. Since there were fortuitously three slots, Aunt Betty was going to go in between Uncle Ralston and Uncle Tom. All set. The problem developed when she married Uncle Minor. He died, of course, and Aunt Betty had a problem. Where was she going to put everyone? Fortune smiled on her and a plot (excuse the expression) opened up next to her’s so she bought it. She told me she was going to put in her will every few years one of the husbands would have to spend a few years next door by himself, and then on a rotating schedule he would eventually be in line to be shifted back to the main grave with everybody else. Seems fair. Nice and cozy forever.

My mother never remarried. I’m glad too. I don’t think I could bear waiting around for an hour or two just to see if another husband was dead.

You want some coffee?

Wes Teel

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