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RIP: Terry O'Keefe

I'm just back from the funeral for Terry O'Keefe. Terry's construction company did the septic system work on Toad Woods just before I moved in and later installed risers to help make pumping out the tank easier. He even broke through blacktop and then patched it back up after I misunderstood where the septic tank access was only to learn that, indeed, the driveway paving went right over it. Oops.

Terry was "Plow Guy" for years until his daughter Kelly started running that business after her mother and Terry's wife Rena died in 2011, just a few weeks before my father did. More recently, Terry was the owner of the Wales Irish Pub. He was a congenial, well-liked fellow and town historian David Worth said Terry's funeral was the largest one Wales has ever had.

Thanks to my housepainter, Stu Perry and his wife Patty, I knew to arrive at the church early. I was in Michigan when Rena O'Keefe's funeral was held in August, 2011. Stu & Patty live next door to the church in Brimfield and said Rena's funeral was so big people were parked in their yard and that the church was full.

I arrived about 25 minutes before the 10am service, parking a couple doors down at my insurance agent's office. I'd been in to see her the day before and checked then about parking there today. It was fine and at least two other vehicles in the small lot were there for the same reason I was.

The church already looked to be standing room only when I entered. I spotted a single space on the far left, about 6 pews from the back. Yep; it was available. I ended up sitting next to Peter, one of Terry's cousins.

The music hadn't started yet. The church was considerably quieter than you would think 200+ people could be while waiting for a funeral to begin. The few remaining visible spots quickly filled up, and there were soon about 50 people standing along the sides as well as however many were in the back. Someone from the church asked everyone to squeeze toward the center, fitting 8 people to a pew in most places where there had previously been 7. The Wales Fire Department was in dress uniform. They moved from lining the side nearest me to the choir seats all the way in front (and off to the side).

The standing spaces along the sides quickly filled in again as more people continued to arrive. Soon a voice came from the front, pointing out that there were 4 seats available up with the Fire Department, that anyone sitting there would be very, very safe. We all chuckled. By the time the organ music started, there were well over 300 people in St. Christopher's Church.

I was the only woman wearing a hat. I tend to wear hats to funerals, especially Catholic funerals. At one point I quietly leaned over and checked with Peter to confirm that it's still okay for women to leave hats on in church. Oh, yes, he assured me. He mentioned how every woman would have been wearing a hat in the old days and said that wearing one made me one of "the Miss or Misses, not just a Plain Old Sally." Awww.

The Funeral Mass was traditional. There was a huge variety of dress, from men in suits and ties to others in Harley sweatshirts. Even though I wore a dress, I was more surprised by the suits than the sweatshirts. A biking accident led to Terry's death and a small contingent of motorcycles was near the front of the funeral procession.

The big Wales fire truck led the procession down to Wales Cemetery #4. I joined in some 30-40 cars back; the whole thing was well over 100 cars long. I don't know how long all traffic was stopped on Hwy 20 just east of Brimfield. Even though we were only taking up the lane in one direction, the police held everything back away from the church both ways.

Tears came to my eyes as we turned off Hwy 19 onto Laurel Hill Road on our way up to the cemetery. The fire truck was sideways, completely blocking Hwy 19 and the fire fighters all stood at attention as the procession turned and proceeded up the hill.

You know how cars at funerals typically pull off to the side of the narrow roads through a cemetery? Or sometimes block one of the roads if they're particularly narrow? We blocked all of the roads in the small cemetery. At the chuch, a woman from the funeral home said they had a plan for getting us all into the small space available, and, by golly, she was right. I suspect it helped that she also invited people to go directly to the Wales Irish Pub if they preferred.

I was especially pleased (and surprised!) to learn that the O'Keefe plot is only a few feet away from where Ida Squier and her daughters Ruby and Helen are buried. I knew it was the same cemetery and I'd been up once to visit the gravesites of my distant cousins. But I didn't know we'd be right there today, and it increased my sense of community, of belonging.

The fire truck was gone, but the Wales police once again had traffic stopped so all of us leaving the cemetery could proceed together to the pub. I went, wanting to see the picture boards that were mentioned during the mass.

I snorted with laughter upon seeing the "Occupancy Maximum: 90" sign in the entrance. Right. At least the entire fire department was there.

I didn't even try to get to the bar. I looked at the picture boards, laughing at several shots, and made my way over to where some of the firefighters were standing before heading out. I asked about Terry's connection to the fire department; I hadn't previously known there was one, only that memorial donations were directed there. It wasn't that Terry had been a firefighter himself, it's that he was always a supporter. He helped them out, loaning them picnic tables for events, supporting him however he could. One of his...nephews, I think...is a firefighter. And, yes, they certainly appreciate the memorial donations. But, wow, they sure turned out for him.

Even with the fire department fully represented, I wasn't inclined to stay in the thoroughly over-crowded bar. I started down the hill to my car, then turned around after hearing the sounds of a crowd in the pavilion out back. I made my way there, helped myself to a small plate of homemade appetizers from a long spread of them, and chatted with various people. The end and one side of the pavilion were lined with tables laden with food. They were waiting for the family to start serving, and I soon took on the job of guarding the dessert table after several people reached under the plastic covering to filch Whoopie Pies. I made exceptions for one of Terry's young nephews, and later a niece. And the guy from the fire department who often serves in the unenviable role of trying to maintain order and make sense of things going on at Town Meetings? Oh, yeah, I wasn't going to stop him from filching a Whoopie Pie. I did, however, wait until they started serving the main course before filching one of my own and abandoning my self-appointed post. Okay, another woman had confirmed that appointment, but still....

When I'd first seen the spread, I asked if they was going to be there until 1am as they clearly had enough food to feed everyone for that long. One woman said she'd made 50 pounds of potato salad. Another woman later said she'd made 100. I hope the two were working together -- 150 pounds of potato salad was overkill even for that crowd.

An elderly woman said she hadn't made anything, but that she did donate all of her flour and sugar. While I was guarding the already-full double-long dessert table, folks walked up with 6 more of those large, round serving trays, all laden with fruit, brownies, and other sweets.

The appetizers and filched Whoopie Pie were all I wanted at the time so I didn't see what-all was on offer on the 8+ tables of entrees, salads, and the like. If debgeisler and benveniste hadn't sent me home with the leftover, fabulous shrimp curry from last night's dinner together, there's no doubt I could head back up to the pub come dinner time.

I talked with a few more people, then headed out. By pure happenstance, Terry's daughter Kelly was just arriving as I complimented a stranger on his hat. He was the husband of Kelly's best friend, which is how I found that out. I've talked with Kelly on the phone several times over the last few winters, but we'd never met. I introduced myself, she reached out for a hug, and I was able to express my sympathies directly. A very satisfying end to my participation in the day's events.

As I drove away, I counted cars parked at and around the pub. There were 120 in sight, and a good number more in parts of the parking lot that I couldn't see from the road. Terry would have been most pleased by all the shared hospitality and how many friends, colleagues, and townspeople were there in support of his family and to say our final farewells to him.

RIP, Terry. As the Irish Blessing quoted on his prayer card says:

"May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand."


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 26th, 2014 10:04 pm (UTC)
What a lovely report! I almost feel like I was there with you. Glad the weather was apparently fine for the crowd as well.
Apr. 26th, 2014 10:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It was cool and rainy out. Light rain, though, and it was lightest when we were at the cemetery. There were fewer than a dozen umbrellas out there, I'd say. I carried mine into the church, but left it in the car at the cemetery.

The weather was very Irish. And sadly fitting, for Terry's motorcycle accident happened when it was rainy.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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