Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories  October 2013 | issue 454

Essay In Which My Uncle Eddy And I Attend His Funeral

by Brian Doyle

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Brian Doyle lives in Portland, Oregon, and is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland. He has written fourteen books, among them the novel Chicago and the collection The Thorny Grace of It: And Other Essays for Imperfect Catholics.

HOW CAN THAT BE, you ask, considering that he is . . . demised?

To which I answer, I haven’t the slightest idea. But here I am, driving to his funeral in rural Connecticut, and there is my uncle Eddy in the passenger seat, companionably sipping on a Schlitz, as usual. His hair is swept up in its usual wave, and he is wearing his telephone lineman’s uniform. I think he is wearing his work boots too, but I cannot see his feet. I want to ask him if drinking a beer is a particularly good idea at eleven in the morning, but who am I to question a guy on the way to his own funeral? So I don’t say anything, but it’s like he can read my mind, because he says, Look: (a) it’s not like I have to give a speech at this event, and (b) it’s only one beer, and (c) you would think that if ever a man could be excused from what is and isn’t proper, it would be on the way to his funeral. Plus didn’t you have two cups of coffee this morning? Why is one kind of stimulation better than another? Plus your aunt will be in high dudgeon, and I want to be relaxed.

He’s right about my aunt, who is an excitable person, and also dudgeon is a lovely word, and just then a big hawk floats right over the road in front of us, so neither of us says anything for a while. After it’s gone, my uncle talks about hawks: As a lineman, you know, you enter their world to some degree, he says. I have been dogged by hawks, sure, and seen thousands of them floating by, some of them carrying kittens or snakes or mice. I have explored a few nests, yes. The company wants us to dismantle the nests, but I never had the heart to do such a thing. Who wants to take apart someone else’s domicile? Not me. The first time I was up there with a nest and thought about taking it apart, I thought of my own house. If two big gloved hands took down my walls and the kids’ bunk beds and my workshop in the garage, wouldn’t I be annoyed? Sure I would.

I want to ask Uncle Eddy how it could possibly be that he is sitting in my car as we drive through Katonah, New York, on the way to Danbury, but sometimes in life you just roll with what’s happening and try to make sense of it after it happens.

Take the next right, Uncle Eddy says.

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