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
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 ……….