On Thursday of last week I played the organ for the funeral of Wayne, a young man, age 64. He was the kid brother of Gary, a classmate of mine. Gary died a few years ago.
Gary and Wayne grew up in the house in Cambridge next door to my grandma. We were never close friends, but we’ve known each other practically our whole lives. After the two boys had graduated from high school, the family bought my grandma’s house, and Gary and Wayne lived there, next door to their parents.
I remember in fourth grade, Gary and I were in the same classroom. We sat in opposite corners of the room. I was always the shortest kid in class, so I was in the front. Gary was always the tallest kid, so he was in the back. In that classroom, the group of kids that seemed to learn the fastest were on the right side of the room; the ones who took longer to learn new things were on the left. I don’t remember who sat smack dab in the middle of the room, but whoever he or she was must have been the perfect average in height and learning style.
One day in fourth grade all of us were taking a test. When we were finished with the test we were supposed to bring it up to the teacher’s desk – in the front left of the classroom – and return to our seat and sit quietly until everyone was finished. I remember taking my test up to Mrs. Schuster’s desk, and walking down the aisle to the back of the room, the long way back to my desk. As I walked by Gary’s desk he whispered something to me. I stopped to respond, and we whispered for a minute. I don’t remember what we talked about. We didn’t escape being noticed by the teacher. Mrs. Schuster loudly ordered me to walk to my desk immediately and not to whisper another word. It’s rare that a teacher scolded me and I felt terrible. Gary and I smiled at each other without whispering another word, and I went back to my desk as fast as I could walk without running.
Being at Wayne’s funeral reminded me of that incident. I never knew Gary or Wayne very well, and that’s my loss. The pastor and one of Wayne’s friends talked about Wayne being a gentle giant, a 6’4” quiet, humble man. He had been a custodian at the Cambridge schools for 25 years. He was an usher in the Presbyterian Church. I wish I had known him better.
I would guess there were between 50 and 75 people at the funeral – more than I had expected. At the lunch at church following the funeral, I went through the food line, and then looked out at the tables to find a place to sit. There were two tables with open chairs. A large round table had four or five women seated and two or three empty chairs. A long table had three men on one side and no one on the other side. I didn’t know any of the women at the women’s table. I knew two of the men at the men’s table. They were classmates of mine. I chose the men’s table and asked if I could make the table co-ed. They welcomed me, and I sat down, facing the three men. I didn’t know Jerry and John very well, but at least I knew they were classmates. I introduced myself to the third man, Randy. He said he was a classmate of my nephew Kevin, and that he had briefly worked with Kevin and my brother Danny in carpentry after high school.
It turns out I had seated myself at the custodian’s table. All three men were custodians at the Cambridge schools and had worked with Wayne. It was a delightful lunch. I learned quite a bit about the schools from a custodian’s perspective. If I hadn’t joined the custodian’s table, I never would have known about the ghost that occupies the upper floor of the old school. I also learned about the issues our volunteer fire department faces with so few people available to volunteer in Cambridge during the day. Most people work in Madison or in other places away from Cambridge. (Randy is one of the volunteer fire fighters.)
I wish I could remember what Gary and I were whispering about in fourth grade. It’s ironic that the two quietest kids in class were caught whispering and were scolded for it. I wish we had been encouraged to talk with the kids in the opposite corners of the classroom instead of being discouraged from talking. We all lost out on the opportunity to broaden our perspectives on life.
I doubt that I’ll meet Jerry, John, and Randy for lunch on a regular basis. But I’m extremely grateful that Wayne’s funeral brought us together for a wonderful time of sharing. Thanks, Wayne.
And Gary – do you remember what we were whispering about almost 60 years ago? I wish we had continued the conversation sometime later, maybe even 50 years later…