I remembered Hughie as a mischevious, adorable curly-haired boy of six or so, in summer dressed in baggy overalls that were four inches too short and in well-worn, laceless, hand-me-down mud-spattered shoes.
He and Felix were inseparable companions. And now, suddenly, here he was, filling a man-sized coffin.
As the long summer day yielded reluctantly to the short night, the neighbours gathered for the wake. Each new arrival entered the little room and gazed for a moment at the dead man. Some crossed themselves, others knelt and murmured a prayer. Some touched the folded hands that clasped a crucifix, some touched the polished wood of the coffin. They stood or sat in little groups about the house, the porch and the yard, talking softly. Schoolmates whom I had not seen in over twenty years greeted me and offered their condolences.
From time to time my father knelt by the coffin and said the rosary and a low drone of voices accompanied him. Mercifully, my mother slept.
My father was perplexed. He wandered about the house absent-mindedly rolling cigarettes. He kept asking no one in particular:
‘Why should a son die before the father?’
It was unnatural, for in the world he knew and had grown up in – his beloved Ireland – the father always died before the son and that was as it should be.
But now time and place were out of joint. Old beliefs and values were changing.
Why would God take the son before the father?
…… Hughie interred ……….