Skip to main content
PBS logo

The Eclectic Pen - how i made money at my grandmother's funeral

By: Erin D. (ErinMarie)   + 2 more  
Date Submitted: 4/9/2007
Last Updated: 4/9/2007
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs » Memoirs
Words: 656

  Now that she’s been gone for thirteen years, I remember more about my grandmother’s death than I do her. I don’t know how long she was sick – it may have been a year or it may have been just a few months. Grandma – who let me eat dessert first, who taught me how to crochet, who had a soft Irish brogue – died of colon cancer on a cold February day when I was eight. She chose to spend the last bits of her time at home, so they set up a hospital bed in the den and a nurse visited daily. They must have known it was the end, because she had more visitors that day that I remember there being before.

My mother had to pick up my sister at dance, and one of my uncles was getting a haircut. I’m not sure where my other uncle or my aunts were, but I know that Grandma’s children weren’t in the house when she passed. I was, though, as well as some great-aunts and –uncles, and my grandfather. The adults were in the kitchen – making tea, no doubt – and I sat at her bedside as she opened her eyes for the last time. And then she was gone.

My mother returned minutes later and soon too did the rest of the family. My uncle swears that she must have been waiting for them, that she had held on until the last hair from his head had fallen to the barbershop floor.

I don’t remember much about the wake, except that my sister and I went home with a neighbor. My parents decided that we were too young to attend the funeral, which I’ve never understood – if I was there when she died, why couldn’t I be there when she was buried? My mom’s best friend stayed at the house with my sister and me while my parents attended the funeral. I had a brand-new American Girl board game, and we sat on Grandma’s yellow vinyl kitchen floor and played it.

Grandpa insisted on having the reception following the funeral at his house, even though his daughters argued that there wouldn’t be enough room for everyone. The front porch was full of coolers stocked with beer, and the back hallway boasted coolers filled with soda. The kitchen and dining room tables, as well as the buffet, overflowed with food. And the house itself was so crowded with family and friends that a person couldn’t move more than a few inches in any direction.

The old men – Grandpa, my great-uncles, and others from the Old Country – had congregated in the den at the rear of the house. Clearly, this hadn’t been well thought-out, as the beer was at the front of the house and it would take one of them twenty minutes just to get through the crowd – if nobody stopped them to talk, that is. My cousins and I, at eight and younger, were the only people in the house who really had any mobility. We were small enough to slip through legs and under tables, and young enough that it was still considered to be “cute” behavior. The old men in the back room began to ask me to get drinks for them, giving me a quarter or two when I returned. And so I crawled under tables and squeezed by relatives, returning triumphant with a Guinness for Uncle Martin or a Sam Adams for Mr. Galvin.

I have no idea how many quarters I collected that day or what I did with them, but I’ve realized that those men were doing as much of a service for me as I was for them. They allowed me to keep the memories of cookies and Irish songs instead of cold earth and tears.

The Eclectic Pen » All Stories by Erin D. (ErinMarie)

Member Comments

Leave a comment about this story...

Comments 1 to 9 of 9
IONE L. (zaneygraylady) - 4/9/2007 4:51 PM ET
What a beautiful story. I'm sure your grandmother was there to enjoy it too.
Maggie M. - 4/9/2007 6:56 PM ET
Talent, talent, and more talent!
Marta J. (booksnob) - 4/11/2007 11:15 AM ET
Absolutely wonderful. I know, unfortunately from personal experience, the healing that comes from a cheerful, bountiful post-funeral gathering. Thanks for the beautiful memoir.
Jennifer F. (jennRN) - 4/11/2007 12:12 PM ET
This is a fantastic literary work. The ending seems a little abrupt, but I LOVED your style - your easy writing. It seems to just flow smoothly. I hope you write more.
Angela F. (AskewGardens) - 4/11/2007 1:33 PM ET
I did a similar thing, fetched beer for dimes, (this was in the 60's) but I got in big trouble for it, since I lived in the Bible Belt of KY, my parents didn't think it was such a great idea. Me on the otherhand, I thought it was great! Thanks for your story.
Lorraine R. (Lorraine528) - 4/12/2007 5:06 PM ET
Very good, I enjoyed this!--Lorraine
Lindsay M. (theresacowinmypants) - 4/13/2007 10:35 PM ET
This was beautiful, and very skillfully written.
Debra M. (valleyofthedolls) - 1/21/2008 12:50 AM ET
I love this...
Karen C. (abookaday) - , - 1/3/2009 9:33 PM ET
very endearing story
Comments 1 to 9 of 9