Since my last two posts involved Asians, I’ve decided to stick with the Asian theme and tell you about the first time we had a Vietnamese funeral at our house. I mentioned in a previous blog that after the Vietnam war a lot of immigrants settled into our area, and when one of them died, none of the funeral directors in the area would help them, but my dad felt sorry for them so he decided offer his services.
What he never considered is that they are from a haggling country, so when it came to funerals, it was no different. When they were haggling for prices during the funeral arrangements, my dad thought it was because they were so poor and couldn’t afford it. That was until they drove up to the funeral home in their Mercedes and brought in a lot of high-tech video equipment to tape the funeral, and then proceeded to throw money into a trash can and burn it. Oh yeah, apparently the Vietnamese have money to burn…literally. Guess why they do this? So the dead person will have money to spend in the afterlife. Isn’t that ridiculous? I think the Vietnamese might wanna re-think that idea. If there is an afterlife, something tells me you’re not gonna need paper money.
When it came time for the funeral, they put a big vase full of sand next to the casket and burned tons of incense. It was so smoky that when you opened the front door to the funeral home, smoke billowed out like a scene from a Cheech and Chong movie.
During the funeral my dad had to leave and pick up a death certificate. He came back to find all the furniture of the front lawn. Naturally baffled, he went up to the oldest family member (because age is a big respect thing in Asian culture) and asked what was going on. He said, “This our custom Mr. John.” My dad was someone who respected people’s culture and requests, so he allowed it, even though I know it bothered him because our house was very visible and it was about to turn into even more of a spectacle. As if it wasn’t bizarre enough already to have immigrants moving your furniture out of your house and onto the front lawn.
Meanwhile, inside they were throwing fruit into the casket and serving 7up in Dixie cups through clouds of incense smoke. I remember standing at the top of the steps looking down but you honestly couldn’t see much through the smoke, aside from people dressed in white robes. The Vietnamese wear white to funerals and chant because this is a Buddhist thing.
They asked my dad to get them a metal trashcan and he obliged. They proceeded to take it out on the front porch, dressed in hooded white robes, threw money and pictures into the trash can and set it on fire while chanting the whole time. My dad couldn’t believe what they were doing and discouraged them to burn money, but they responded, “This our custom Mr. John.”
This also happened at a time when the neighborhood was changing and some black people started to move in…and that’s when the phone calls started.
People in the neighborhood started calling the house asking what the hell was going on, was this some kind of KKK meeting? Understandably so, the only thing missing was the burning cross on the lawn that was replaced with furniture. My dad assured the neighbors that this was not a racist gathering but a custom of a Vietnamese funeral. Pissing off the neighbors was not something my dad wanted to do because let’s face it, everyone was eventually going to be potential business. The Irish Catholics being the main source of income.
They also threw money and fruit into the grave at the cemetery and again, my dad tried to discourage them…especially since he made no money on that funeral after all that haggling. But my dad was a smart business man, and he would kill me if he knew I was telling you this, but once he understood that haggling was just something they practiced, he knew that if he ever had another Vietnamese funeral, which he did, that he would have to raise the prices so that when they haggled down far enough, he would still make a profit. Like any other business, you’re in it to make money, so he learned that lesson the hard way. You know the saying…”Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”…let’s just say he only got fooled once.
After that funeral, having another one soon after, we had to open all the windows and doors and spray Lysol and all kinds of other air fresheners to get rid of the smoke and incense smell. Never a dull moment at the funeral home, as there was always plenty of stress and chaos to go around. There were plenty of times that we had all hands on deck. One of us would be vacuuming, another one would be help setting up the flowers, my mom would be styling a dead ladies hair, someone would be sweeping and polishing the knobs and my dad would be barking out orders. Then we would get to go upstairs and have to be quiet for a few hours…yeah, fun times.
Speaking of that famous saying, I’ve included on of my favorite clips of our former genius president, George Bush.