On October 12th, 1991, 499 years after Christopher Columbus discovered America, Gil Waldowsky suffered his third major heart attack and died. The death certificate had the time of death at 7:01 pm so at 7:02 Mrs. Waldowsky and her two daughters began planning the funeral and the reception that would follow. They would also have to arrange the sleeping accommodations for many of the mourners, some of whom had started to arrive.
The two daughters and their mother passed the telephone back and forth bouncing between ritual weeping and necessary laughter. But when the girls took the car keys to go out food-shopping a big fight started over Gil Waldowsky’s Honda. Mrs. Waldowsky said they could only use their father’s car for errands directly related to his funeral. The girls argued that everything they were doing was funeral-related and that it wasn’t exactly a pleasure going to the supermarket to order cold-cuts and salads for their father’s funeral platters. Mrs. Waldowsky and her daughters started crying and they understood why the funeral director said that there would be fighting. When the girls pulled out of the driveway in the Honda, Mrs. Waldowsky threw herself into the arms of the chaplain who had come straight over when he heard the terrible news of Mrs. Waldowsky’s loss.
Mrs. R. Latzman, a long-time friend of the Waldowsky family, had just arrived with the chopped liver and told Mrs. Waldowsky not to get herself more aggravated than she already was. Then she began to count. But she was unable to make an accurate list of the next days mourners and when Mrs. Latzman showed Mrs. Waldowsky the pound and a half of chopped liver, Mrs. Waldowsky once again threw herself into the arms of the chaplain begging him to please stop by Amanda’s Deli to pick up another half pound of chopped liver.
By the end of that day, the family of Gil Waldowsky had gathered. His brother David and his wife had arrived from New York and so had their cousin, Mrs. Sylvia D. Brown. As they sat down to a quiet family dinner Mrs. Waldowsky said, “This is all that’s left of us!” Then she served the lasagna.
Mrs. Waldowsky insisted that everyone go to sleep early. She walked round and round her house reminding her guests that they had to get up at six because the limousines were coming at nine, that everyone had to shower and have breakfast, that the limousines were coming at nine, and that everyone had to get up at six. Try as she might, Mrs. Waldowsky could not get her family into bed.
Her oldest daughter, Mrs. T. McAvoy, was hemming her son’s trousers and arguing with him that he had to wear these particular trousers because these were the only one’s she had packed. At the same time she was explaining to her daughter that everyone was giving out ten dollar bills as a sign of suffering, sacrifice, and grief.
The younger of Mrs. Waldowsky’s girls, Mrs. J. Willems, had in fact fallen asleep but she was sleeping atop the bedspread atop a pile of candy wrappings apparently having experienced an over-dose of chocolate bars. Mrs. Waldowsky understood that this was what the funeral director meant when he said that strange things would be happening.
Cousin Sylvia Brown was drinking cognac with the chaplain who, having mentioned earlier that he loved lasagna, found it his duty to remain with the family to be that outside shoulder upon which they could lean. And Mr. and Mrs. David Waldowsky were relaxing in Gil Waldowsky’s hot-tub outside on the patio. Every once in a while there would be a little groan and then a sigh. Mrs. Waldowsky thought of offering the hot-tub as a gift to her husband’s brother since she could no longer bare to look at it.
And Mrs. Latzman was making her fourth trip out to the airport. This time she was picking up Mr. and Mrs. L. Gotlieb, two very dear friends of the departed who appeared, as Mrs. Latzman noted, to have had vodka martinis and a few too many. The last of the mourners, also close friends of the deceased, were arriving five minutes later and two gates away. Mrs. Latzman recognized Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Kasco even though she had not seen them in perhaps ten years. Mr. Kasco was holding onto his wife Florence and by the looks of things they didn’t seem any more stable than the Gotleibs. Mrs. Latzman could have used a martini herself but she held on tight until all the friends were safely inside Mrs. Waldowsky’s stronghold.
Mrs. Waldowsky was sitting on the sofa with her boss, Mrs. Brenda O’Connor. Mrs. O’Connor had brought with her a gallon each of Beefeater Gin and Tanqueray Vodka. “I charged it to the office,” she said, “and listed it under Staff Support.” An hour later, Mrs. Waldowsky’s family and friends went calmly off to their beds.
At six o’clock the next morning, as promised, Mrs. Waldowsky woke her household. And at nine, the limousines came.
It was a long ride to the chapel. No one could explain why it was such a long ride.
Gil Waldowsky’s coffin was covered with an American flag. He lay inside it wearing a new blue golf shirt, a parting gift from the Rosemont Golf and Country Club. In his left hand he was holding his putter and in his right hand he was holding the parting gifts from his daughters, a chocolate bar and two tiny photographs of his grandchildren. Mrs. McAvoy said that her father looked like King Tut. From the speakers in the small chapel came the sound of Harry James.
The funeral director came into the room and the mourners took their seats. And then it was over. The flag was folded and the coffin was closed. The mourners left in the limousines.
The undertaker wheeled the coffin back onto a holding platform. The coffin would remain there until the next morning when it would be driven to the crematorium. Once inside the crematorium the body would be removed from its rented coffin and tagged with a numbered metal ring. It would then be put into an industrialized cardboard box and loaded onto a conveyor belt. At eleven o’clock it would be rolled into an oven and the oven would be lit. Then the ashes and the metal ring would be gathered up and packed into a black plastic box that would weigh a little more than two pounds. The undertaker had been instructed to bury the box in the little cemetery on Woodland Drive in space 31 J.
October 12, 1992
In memory of Gilbert S. Lubeck who I know so little about …
I mourn the mystery as I loved it…