January 19, 2007

Mourning clothes

The schools here have a standard dress code for band and choir concerts: black pants and a white dress shirt. That's the outfit my kids wear to awards ceremonies, too, and the outfits get passed down from kid to kid as the boys grow. The neighbor kids, Older Neighbor Boy and Philosophical Boy, are in our hand-me-down loop, and I've more than once made a frantic call to Neighbor Woman when I've discovered just before a school concert that With-a-Why's pants did not fit. Since a school event comes up every few months, I can usually be assured that each of my kids has a nice pair of black pants and a white shirt in the closet.

When Neighbor Guy's father died this week, I told my boys they should come to the wake. "Wear your concert clothes," I said. Then I went upstairs to find my good pair of black pants. My husband wears a suit to work so he didn't need to change.

As we walked to the car, I noticed that Shaggy Hair Boy was still wearing his sneakers. "Where are the dress shoes you wore to the concert?" I asked. "How come you aren't wearing them?"

"Boy in Black's got them on."

It turns out that Shaggy Hair's feet had caught up to Boy in Black's feet, and so they have been sharing a pair of shoes, since they never have concerts the same night. Neither kid had asked me for a new pair of shoes because they felt one pair was perfectly adequate. Luckily, Shaggy Hair's sneakers are black and looked at least appropriately somber for the occasion.

In the car, I reminded the kids about funeral etiquette. "When you go through the line, you can give Neighbor Guy and Neighbor Woman hugs," I said. "You can say something like, 'I was sorry to hear the news' or you can tell some kind of memory you have of him."

Shaggy Hair Boy looked at me in horror. "Out loud?" he asked, "We're supposed to say something out loud?"

"Of course, aloud," said my husband, "It's not into a microphone or anything. Just talk to Neighbor Family."

The boys behaved fine, of course, and their friends were glad to see them. It was a shock to see Older Neighbor Boy and Philosophical Boy in suits. How old they looked, how serious. I've known them since they were little kids, and all of a sudden, they are both taller than me.

"Their first time as pallbearers," Neighbor Woman said to me.

She and I looked over at our gang of boys, standing somberly in a circle about ten feet from the casket, all dressed up and behaving formal. Shaggy Hair Boy, his freckles faded and his hair pulled back into a neat ponytail, was talking seriously to Philosophical Boy, who stood with his hands in the pockets of his new suit. Only With-a-Why still looked like a little boy.

It's a strange thing. I mean, I am always clearing out closets, passing outgrown clothes from one child to another, and buying new sneakers for those fast-growing feet. But despite the constant shuffling of clothes, I somehow fool myself into thinking that my kids are staying the same, that things will always stay the same. But then a grandfather dies, we gather at a funeral parlor, and suddenly, I realize that our little boys have turned somehow, inexplicably, while I wasn't watching, into young men.


kathy a said...

oh, jo(e). i'm crying. neighbor woman's explanation that it is the boys' "first time as pallbearers" got me. it is so good you and your family were there, that the neighbors have so many around who love them. and yes, they are all growing up, in all the ways we do.

ya done good.

Anonymous said...

I'm always saying things like "Beautiful post!" or "Wonderful!", but you have such a way with words, that most of the time there is nothing left to say!
So as I say, so very often, this post was beautiful. Sad, but still beautiful.

Anonymous said...

What Kyla said. And also what Kathy A said.

Anonymous said...

oh, jo(e)... You do capture the dilemma of being alive -- hope and sorrow in the same moment. Only in silence, the word; only in darkness, light.

Kris said...

I have to learn how to fool myself. Because everytime I change over the sizes I get a wave of melancholy, that my kids are growing too fast.

PS You have become one of my most favorite blogs.

Kathryn said...

You've taken me back to a defining moment in December 2000 when my F-i-L died and suddenly Hugger Steward, then all of 11, found himself walking beside his only-just-grown-up cousin, who was sharing with his father and uncles in carrying the coffin. Suddenly, as you so beautifully indicate, I realised that these children of mine would become grown men...with all that implied.
Thank you, as always, for beautiful writing xx

Anonymous said...

I miss the little boy voice the most.

landismom said...

My MIL and I were talking, over Christmas vacation, about how you can sort of see the faces of women in the girls of our family, but you can't really see men in the boys. I think there is such a distinct change in the faces of young men--it must be hard to suddenly look up and see a man, where you've always seen a boy before.

Anonymous said...

I love your writing. I love that I can see the boys and that you conjure memories in me. I took my partner, K's, kids to get nice pictures taken for her birthday. The three of us looked at the pics on the computer before we left the studio and chose the ones we liked. I was grateful that I was standing behind the kids, since I got all teary, realizing that her 16-year-old son had suddenly become a man. When I went back to pick up the pictures, the woman remembered me. "Oh yes", she said, "you're the one who cried."

Anonymous said...

I love the way you cherish(ed) your children when they were/are little, and you cherish them as they turn into adults. It's not easy to be so loving about all the transitions, but you take such pleasure in your kids. I love reading it.

Anonymous said...

So often I find myself nodding in agreement-this time is no different. They grow too fast.

Anonymous said...