UP FROM THE GRAVE

Betty Wilson Beamguard

York, South Carolina

Yeah, O. Pa’s funeral was one of a kind. O. Ma got him the nicest casket she could afford. They even done had his tombstone ready in time for the burial since they knowed he’d pass on soon. And O. Ma, being the practical sort, she went on and had em make it up, so all they had to do was fill in the date. Even had her own name wrote on the other side, Ovaline Luora Outslay, right next to Milton Eugene Outslay.

You couldn’t of asked for no better funeral weather. I do hate a sunny day for a funeral, don’t you? With sunshine and birds singing, it just don’t seem right. It’s like all creation is mocking your sadness. But this was a perfect day for a funeral. The rain had quit, but the sky was still gray, and there was the kind of nip in the air that makes you want to pull your coat up tight around you. Most all the leaves was already off the trees, best I can remember.

We had a nice service over at the church with it packed plumb full, what with O. Pa running the general store all them years. He knew everybody in the whole community.

Then we all walked out back to the cemetery. Once we got gathered round the grave, Preacher Gilroy started up again. Said the dust to dust, ashes to ashes thing with all of us standing there wishing he’d hurry it up. O. Ma didn’t allow them to set up no chairs or funeral tent on account of it cost extra. So there we stood while he rambled on, repeating the same stuff he’d done said back at the church. Same stuff he said every funeral. I probably coulda said it for him, I’d heard it so much.

When the preacher got done, my cousin Doug got up to do his part. He’d fought in Vietnam and wanted to honor O. Pa for fighting in World War II. So he’d took the American flag out of the church and had his pistol and was gonna do one of them military salutes where you fire off a gun.

Doug the Slug is what I called him when we was kids. His hair and eyes was the color of a slug, he was slow like a slug, and he was stupid like a slug. They used to make me play with him for no better reason than we was the same age. With us living on farms right side by side, we was stuck with one another, but I couldn’t stand him, and best I could tell, he felt pretty much the same way about me.

But anyhow, our neighbor, Roosevelt Belton, come up to Doug when he first got up there with the flag and the gun, and offered to hold the flag for him. Nobody knowed ahead Doug was gonna do all this or we coulda planned it better, but Doug told Roosevelt it was his grandpa and he’d do it. So he held the flag up with his left hand, braced the pole on his thigh, and raised that gun in his right hand, pointing it up towards the sky.

He fired off a shot and we all jumped like we’d been goosed. When O. Ma jumped, standing right on the edge of the grave, the dirt give way and down she fell in the hole. My sister’s little boy hollered, “He shot O. Ma,” and people all around started wailing and carrying on something awful. O. Ma’s sister, my Aunt Alberta, she passed out cold. I mean fell out right there on the wet grass.

Me and some others run over to look in. There set O. Ma, sunk down in that red mud with her little black hat knocked all wonky and one eye gunked shut, but she didn’t appear to be hurt.

Then that fool Doug throwed down his gun and the flag, and jumped in there with her. Splattered her all up one side. Roosevelt hollered for Doug just to wait, that he had a ladder in the back of his pickup, and he run to get it. 

When Doug heard some of them up there asking one another if she was shot dead, he yelled, “I shot in the air, you fools. She just fell in.”

Well, they all shut up and looked at one another, and Preacher Gilroy, who’d never give permission in the first place for the flag to be carried out of the church, tucked his Bible under his arm and walked over to pick it up. He shook the leaves off of it and checked to see if it got dirty.

Roosevelt come back and slid his ladder down in the hole, and Doug helped O. Ma climb onto it. Then Roosevelt and the man what worked for the funeral home got on either side and pulled her on up over the top, and that’s when Aunt Alberta come to. She opened her eyes and seen O. Ma pop up out of that grave, and she went wild.

Them what was standing next to her had to jump out of the way, for she shot up so fast we never seen how she done it. She took off tearing round that cemetery, waving her arms over her head and hollering, “Up from the grave! Praise God. Ovaline has rose up from the grave just like the good Lord Jesus. Hallelujah! Glory be to God.”

All we could do was stand and watch while she run in and out amongst them tombstones waving her hands with her big bosoms just a flopping, and the watch what she always wore on a chain round her neck bouncing around on top of them. It was just like when I seen her get the Holy Ghost that time Mama took us to the revival at Aunt Alberta’s church over in Arkansas when I was nine.

I never seen nothing like it before nor since, for once was all we ever went. Mama didn’t hold with no such carrying on in church. But that night, Aunt Alberta had on high heels, and she went tearing up one aisle and down the other without opening her eyes once, a squealing and a hollering the whole time, just like she done at O. Pa’s burial.

Aunt Alberta’s sons finally run out there and grabbed her and dragged her off to the car with her still a shouting. They put O. Ma in Doug’s car for him to take her on back to the house, since he had plastic seat covers on his old Fairlane, and since it was his fault she fell in on account of the shot. And it was him what told the pall bearers to set the casket over behind the hole instead of in front of the hole like they was supposed to.

So them what was muddy rode with Doug, and we followed them back over to the house, all except Aunt Alberta and them. They headed straight on back to Arkansas.

NOTE: This story was first published in Broomweed Journal in 2005 with shorter versions appearing in the Oxford So & So, Yesterday’s Memories, and Tombigbee Country Magazine in 2007.

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