Al Batt: I heard a muffled cackle at St. Aidan Cemetery

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, November 22, 2022

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

Joe was dying.

But he got over it.

Al Batt

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The report of his imminent demise had been greatly exaggerated. He got better and lived a good number of years before he began dying again.

This time, Joe died.

After the funeral, Joe’s friends and family gathered at St. Aidan Cemetery, a lovely rural resting place near a ghost town. 

Wonderful words were spoken there. Then Joe’s brother Tom noticed something was wrong. It wasn’t a square peg going into a round hole, but the casket was set to be lowered into the wrong plot. 

Tom brought it to the attention of the funeral home folks. He didn’t pitch a fit or become pouty or huffy. He just wanted things done right. It was announced to those gathered that the casket would be lowered later into the correct grave for burial. The rest of the graveside service went off without a hitch.  

I’d been to 47 county fairs, one goat roping and a farm combine demolition derby (a sumo demo derby), but I’d seen nothing like that before. The grave had been dug in the wrong place. It wasn’t because of creative differences. It was a grave mistake —maybe due to a bad GPS. The gravediggers weren’t thrilled about digging another one, but they’d get over it. They hadn’t steered a ship into an iceberg, but needed to make a course correction. It was vexing, but no one blamed anyone. Joe’s relatives were reasonable human beings. That’s how we get along in this world. Mistakes are made. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t need the word “mistake” in the dictionary.

At least the gravediggers had mechanized equipment to do the heavy lifting for them. The grave hadn’t been dug by a friend I called Tom because that was his name. He wasn’t Joe’s brother and never had been. People knew him as Digger because he dug graves. I’m not sure Tom was fond of his nickname, but what are you going to do? When people asked him if he dug graves by hand, he replied, “No, I use a shovel.”

Tom probably heard old-timers telling him that when they were his age, they didn’t have spades or shovels. They had to dig graves with their fingernails. Tom dug a grave to the top of his head. He was 5 feet tall, weighed 100 pounds and didn’t dig graves 6 feet deep because he’d have had difficulty getting out.

Joe was a wonderful guy who served in the Philippines during World War II and laughed readily with a distinctive sound, which could be construed as a cackle. There were those in attendance that day who said they could hear his laugh when we were told the wrong grave had been dug. I think they were kidding, but I’m not positive because I might have been the one who had heard it.

A bagpiper was asked to play at a different graveside service at St. Aidan. The piper’s GPS hated him and he became lost. He arrived an hour late and only the backhoe crew remained. He apologized for being late and began to play at a gravesite covered in dirt and performed “Amazing Grace” so well, the workmen wept. One said, “I’ve never heard anything so beautiful and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for 20 years.”

We went back to the church without having to use a GPS and enjoyed funeral potatoes (scalloped potatoes and ham) — one of life’s great things. We talked about what had happened at the cemetery and told Joe stories. We’d miss Joe, but we agreed he’d have wanted laughter and some cackles from his mourners.

It had been June, but it had a Thanksgiving feel. Robert Caspar Lintner wrote, “Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day.”

It was a great day to be alive. A reminder that there is no better time to be breathing than right now. I’m grateful to be in the land of the living and I’m thankful I knew Joe. I’m blessed by the memories and the laughter.

Maya Angelou said, “This a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.”

I’m glad I was there to see that day and this one. Happy Thanksgiving.

Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday in the Tribune.