Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rest In Peace (Eventually), Charles Lee Tracy

The Captain's dad died. He was a Good Man: honorable, loyal, slow to anger, and quick to laugh. It was pretty sudden - after fighting cancer for something like six months and surviving in remission for six years, the damn cancer swooped back, and within a week of feeling poorly, he was gone. It was a hard blow for The Captain and his family.

The Captain's mom and dad, Marlene and Chuck, in 2007 at Dean and Jenny's wedding

But there is no better cure for grief than a big family funeral. And no, not because it's cleansing and closuring, but because there is no time to think about the sad passing of a beloved when you are negotiating your way around twenty of your closest and craziest relatives.

Oh, come on. I can talk about The Captain's relatives, because they are no crazier than mine or yours. Every family just has a slightly different brand of crazy.

Chuck and Marlene, putting up with some of Dean and Jenny's crazy.

The craziest thing about The Captain's family is that they live in Ridgecrest, California. Ridgecrest is in the uninhabitable expanse of the Mojave desert, within spitting distance of Death Valley (unfortunately, after twenty minutes exposed to the super-heated air, it is impossible to produce spit, so this cliche is unhelpful).

They live there, and the town exists, not on some dare gone horribly wrong, but because it is the home of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center. The China Lake Naval Weapons Center is in Ridgecrest because China Lake is actually a large dry lake bed, so far from anything important that the Navy can practice blowing things up there and no one will be inconvenienced. You know, because of the uninhabitable desert thing.

Chuck Tracy worked at the China Lake Naval Weapons Center for twenty years, so it makes sense that they lived there. However, it must be noted that they did not move away after Chuck's retirement, so it has to be deduced that they enjoy living there. Indeed, The Captain's sisters choose to live there, as do other family members, even though they have experienced life elsewhere. There's something powerful about familiarity. That's all I can figure. Well, that, and steady employment.

We drove down, because in addition to baggage fees, legroom fees, blanket rentals, and food fees, the airlines have quietly done away with the emergency bereavement fare that once reduced the price of a last-minute ticket by up to fifty percent. Now, if it exists, it's a wopping five percent discount. So we made arrangements for the dogs and hopped into the Prius for the two-day trip down.

Travel tip #1: do not stay at the Motel 6 in Carson City. Just trust me on this.

Something about driving into Ridgecrest, which we have done many times over the past twenty-eight years, always makes me want to eat York Peppermint Patties.

After some (understandably) distressingly tense voices on the phone over the last week, we didn't know what to expect at The Captain's mom's house, but everyone was on their best behavior. Plans were made for the funeral the next day. The pallbearers, in honor of Chuck's favorite piece of haberdashery, were to all wear Hawaiian shirts. Flowery shirts were distributed to those who were undershirted, and The Captain's mom warned those known to be promptness-challenged to be there on time.

Travel tip #2: No matter what Motel you stay in, get yourself a white noise machine. I don't know if they work, but they couldn't hurt. Air conditioners cycle on and off. Dumbasses talk outside your room. Cars gun their engines and honk their horns. Neighbors play their TVs too loud. Motels are just not designed for sleep.

The funeral was lovely, although I couldn't help but notice that the front wall of the church held a strong resemblance to the Laugh In set, if it were decorated by a 70-year-old Victorian Bed and Breakfast proprietor.

The next stop was Bakersfield National Cemetery, an hour's drive away. If you've never seen a hearse lead a funeral procession at somewhere over 80 miles an hour, then I win, because I have.

Bakersfield National Cemetery is brand spanking new, with a temporary headquarters in a mobile unit, and bulldozers going nonstop. It makes for less than a restful place of rest, but I'm confident that eventually, it will be nice. Right now, it's a dusty, loud construction site.

The highlight of the interment ceremony (if there can be a highlight) was the military rites performed by the Blue Eagles Honor Guard from Edwards Air Force Base (Chuck retired from the Air Force before he moved his family to Vernonia, allowed his son, Captain America, to get involved with a local hussy, then hightailed it out of there to save the rest of his family and take a job at China Lake.) They were beyond sharp, in ninety-plus-degree heat, in dark blue dress uniforms. I've never seen a flag folded with that kind of aggressive perfection. It was beauty in blue.

Stock photo of the Air Force Honor Guard. You get the idea.

We ate at Del Taco on the way home from the funeral. I don't know. It just seemed right.

We stayed a couple of days after the funeral to visit with The Captain's mom. The temperature topped out at around 105 most days, so there were no pickup games of touch football on the lawn. We mostly stayed inside and watched the kids take short forays into the back yard and back in for needed rehydration. Luckily, Mom will continue to have plenty of kids and grandkids around to keep her busy.

Travel tip #3: Do NOT stay at the Mt. Shasta City Inn & Suites. Beds past their dump date. Bathrooms that smell like an old mop. "Continental breakfast" that consists of Cheerios and an empty coffee pot. Broken air conditioner. All for twice the price of the awful Carson City Motel 6.

Now we are glad to be home but still sad about losing Chuck. Chuck was a wonderful man who touched a lot of lives in nothing but a positive way. But maybe, with the help of crazy relatives in a crazy place, we're a little less sad than before.


Brian and Becca Davis said...

Piglet and the Captain-

So very very sorry for your loss. Somehow we had missed the news before and hadn't had a chance to send you hugs and support and sympathy. I'm sorry that your Dad's loss was so very sudden, but also thankful that he and you didn't have to endure a long, lingering, painful illness.

Let's try and get together sometime soon to raise a toast to wonderful fathers whom cancer took too soon.



piglet said...

Thanks, B&B&K. I'm all for toasting in all its forms. L'chaim.