I haven’t told you a funeral story for a couple of weeks and this is a family favorite. As I mentioned in a previous post, Italian funerals were typically dramatic and on the occasion that something especially interesting happened, it served as a source of entertainment for the family. What do you expect? We were usually trapped upstairs in silence, so we had to find something to entertain us, and if it happened to be what was going on at the funeral, then so be it. Again, I will reiterate that we didn’t laugh because we were being insensitive, we laughed because sometimes it was just funny.
We usually could get an idea of what type of funeral it was going to be just from the kind of flower arrangements that would be delivered. Italians love elaborate funeral flower displays. For example, one time there was a large square display made completely of white carnations, but in the center were a bunch of roses made into the shape of a giant heart with the dead person’s picture in the middle of it. Another time, there was a flower arrangement that was about four feet tall and made into the shape of a big cross with roses that spelled out “R.I.P. MOTHER.” These types of gaudy flower arrangements were sometimes a tip off that some drama might ensue, which we hoped for. Sometimes someone would start sobbing and attract attention or as in the other story I told you, grab the corpse and start yelling, “Ma! Who’s gonna cook me peppers and eggs on Sunday?
This particular funeral started out very quietly as most Italian funerals do. Everyone was dressed in black, milling about and offering the family their condolences. My family, aside from my dad, was upstairs watching TV at a ridiculously low volume when we heard music coming from downstairs. Most people don’t play music at funerals so this immediately caught our attention. One at a time, we tip-toed to the top of the stairs and positioned ourselves at an angle where we could see the action but still remain relatively hidden, which is not an easy task by the way. Most times, we’d have to peak and quickly pull back so no one would see us.
As the music continued to play we heard a woman’s voice say, “C’mon Carmela, get up and dance for grandma. C’mon Carmela, get up!” From what we could see, Carmela was about eight years old and dressed up in a full-on ballet costume as if she were at her dance recital, she was even wearing a tutu. Carmela looked at her mom, the one who was coaxing her and who also looked like one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, and shook her head as if she didn’t want to do it, and can you blame her? Would you want to hold a performance in front of a casket, and everyone in the audience is crying? Granted, that would have been easy for me. I was used to it.
Carmela reluctantly got up up and was whimpering while her mother continued, “Carmela, dance for grandma, she would love that. Grandma loved it when you danced. Do a spin Carmela, do your steps.” Poor Carmela is awkwardly and very half-heartedly doing beginner ballet steps in front of her dead grandmother while the crowd looked on in… confusion, was it? Carmela’s hating every second of it and we’re at the top of the stairs holding our laughter in as much as we could so we could continue to watch the show. The mother started crying and Carmela kept looking over at her mother as if to say, “how long do I have to do this?” Meanwhile, the song was still playing and the music sounded as if it was being played by a kid who was taking piano lessons, and it was coming from a little portable tape recorder that was on a chair. Maybe Carmela was the musician as well as the ballerina.
Finally, the song ended and I guess no one clapped because it was a funeral and not a dance recital? Carmela sat down with a look of relief on her face while her mother continued to cry. We waited for a minute or two to see if anyone else was performing, but unfortunately, Carmela was a solo act.
After the funeral was over, my dad came upstairs and we couldn’t wait to hear what else we missed. He told us that someone was passing out canoli and then put one in the casket for Grandma! Of course, it stayed there until the end of the night, and when the family left, my dad took the canoli out of the casket and ate it. J/K (that’s web lingo for “just kidding,” old people who are reading)
Have you ever danced at a funeral? Did you wear a tutu? Would you eat a canoli out of a casket?
I have to say that when it comes to funerals, I think the Irish do it right. They believe in throwing a party and celebrating the life of the dead person. Does that mean a lot of people show up drunk to the funeral? Sure, but that makes it a little more fun. Although, I admit I would love for canoli to be passed out at a funeral and there’s no way I would allow one to be wasted on the dead person.
Have a beautiful day!