By David Allen
The chapel smelled sweet
flowers surrounded the coffin
that displayed my grandmother,
my Nan Nan, with a smile on her lips
that was foreign to the face.
She had never looked like that.
Her living smile was more subtle
quick to bend when a barrage of words
annoyingly asked why I was staring at her.
But I knew her secret — she just acted tough.
She was a former police matron who
acquired a thick shell that hid her true feelings.
But I knew better.
She was more than my grandmother,
she was my friend, the pal I ran to
when the drama at home became strained.
I was her first grandchild, her “Little Monkey.”
She always had a banana for me
and was repaid with a puppy dog hug.
The person in the casket
Was not my Nan Nan.
She was always larger than life,
this body was dead.
I was on leave from the Navy
and stood there in my uniform
weirdly feeling I was wearing some
new outfit she’d bought just for me.
Ten rows of chairs, eight across, filled the room.
Few were used; most of the attendees congregated
in the rear of the room, animatedly chatting
about anything other than my why they were there.
They caught up on the adventures of acquaintances
and introduced new additions to their families.
They hushed as a priest led the small group in prayer.
He never knew her, but called her a “Good Soul” anyway.
It was strange to hear him call her Charlotte.
That made it even tougher for me to believe
the still body behind him was my old friend.
When the priest finished, my grandfather,
my Pop Pop, slowly approached the coffin.
His weathered face contorted in a painful frown
as he bent over the top of the casket .
His trembling hand softly touched the corpse’s cheek.
He kissed her and trembled, shaking as he turned.
The mortician gently helped him walk away.
His two sons, Nan Nan’s stepsons , kissed her next.
Then, in an order unrehearsed, it was my turn.
I knelt before the box and fought my fear.
I felt like a child again, worried she’d yell if I stared.
Shaking, I stood and leaned over the coffin.
She was covered with a blanket from the waist down
so no one would see she had but one leg,
the other was amputated years ago, a sacrifice to diabetes.
She was pale. The funeral parlor make-up was unnatural.
I hesitated, then kissed a cold cheek and turned away.
I had touched my lips to a powdered statue.
I walked away sobbing softly to myself
and joined Pop Pop in the foyer, holding him,
his head resting on my shoulder as we watched
others file by the coffin, their conversations resuming
after shaking his hand and heading for the parking lot.
Pop Pop and I were alone after the casket was carried away.
I slowly turned and looked into his sad eyes
“That’s not Nan Nan,” I said
“I know, son,” he sighed. “I know.”
Note: The picture is of Nan Nan, our grandmother, and the Allen kids (l to : David, Donald, Michael, Jean, Kathy, Chuck and Ricky in Nan Nan’s arms). Circa 1960, Roslyn Heights, Long island.