As it turned out I went to today's funeral (the first of the year) with the Wee Manny. He arrived at our house more than an hour early all suited and booted. In our part of the world, by the time a man is in his middle age he has his funeral rig ready at all times. This outfit will consist of a dark suit, a dark tie, black if the funeral is that of a close family member and, given the Irish climate, a heavy dark overcoat.
It was a battle getting Bert to wear his suit but he allowed himself to be persuaded. The funeral suit is a much easier option than trying to find other items of dark (clean) clothing. And the dark tie is always in the inside jacket pocket.
The reason I went with The Wee was because Bert was picking Hannah up from work and the Wee and I, both being Virgos, are very particular about punctuality. We were there at least half an hour before the proceedings began. The Cuningham Memorial is very close to where I live yet this was the first time I'd ever been inside it. The interior is very traditional, with heavy roof beams and beautiful stained glass. The pews are those old fashioned ones with doors. Ours seated just three people. As always, on entering the church, I had to stop myself looking for the holy water font and in the pew I noted the absence of kneelers. Presbyterians do not kneel. At least I did not attempt to genuflect as I entered the pew. I did that once but I hope no one noticed. That was at Church of Ireland wedding so you'd almost get away with it.
As we sat in that pew I reflected that The Wee is actually my oldest friend. Not old in terms of age, but old in the length of time we've known each other. I met him nearly forty years ago and I knew of his existence a couple of years before that. The Wee was one of the cool dudes, living mostly outside Ballymena, in London, Amsterdam and other interesting places. I first met him in Dublin while I was visiting my sister who was at Trinity College. He and I had a mutual friend and the three of us went on a pub crawl. Little did I know that we'd still know each other forty years on and that we'd go to funerals together and that we'd have spent the time before discussing our favourite baking dishes and other mundane things. He introduced me to Bert nearly thirty years ago so I expect I'll have to be friends with him forever.
The man whose funeral service we were at was the father of one of my youngest friends. I've known Mel for sixteen years and although I did not know her daddy very well, I know that she loved him dearly and he loved her just as much. His passion was breeding horses which he'd been doing for about as long as I've known The Wee. For the very first time ever in our village we had a horse-drawn carriage carrying the coffin to the cemetery. It was drawn by two black horses and somehow I missed seeing it. The reason? Bert distracted my attention by pointing out a familiar face that he was certain belonged to an old enemy from Ballymoney. I was certain it was not our enemy although the lady did look familiar. It turned out to be our vet from Clough. I'd never seen her in a dress before.
God Rest You John A. You left a fine legacy behind you.