There were more than two hundred people in attendance at Pierce Granger’s funeral. Family, friends, clients, curious onlookers, complete strangers. Even members of the press, there to cover the story about the passing of one of Oregon’s great sports legends. Pierce the Plowman was dead at forty-nine.
Ingrid Granger sat in the front pew of St. Michael’s Church, with her children, Billy, Elaine and Denny at her side. Down the row were Pierce’s brother, Peter, and his sister, Rose. Ingrid was sobbing softly. Elaine, too, wept to herself, as Billy firmly fixed his gaze upon the casket—which lay surrounded by innumerable wreaths of flowers at the foot of the alter. An organist played sad, somber strains, evoking a strange, uplifting despondency.
Billy had not been in a church since Elaine got married in seventy-four. He had not thought that the marriage would last, and sure enough, less than three years later, she was filing for a divorce. Elaine’s husband, Russell, played bass in the popular Seattle band, the Hots. And, given his propensity for a wandering eye, it was not long before Russell was violating any number of his marriage vows at any given time.
Still drunk from the wake of the night before—and from having downed half a bottle of Wild Turkey before the service had even begun, Denny’s head lolled from side to side. He reeked of alcohol. Occasionally, for no particular reason, Denny would chuckle, as if sharing a joke with himself.
A dull hum, surrounded the rest of the congregation, ambiguous incertitude in their hushed tremulous voices. Pierce’s death had only precipitated the inevitable eventuality of their own. This awareness imbued the room with a great sense of trepidation—as if all were precariously traversing a slender cliff high on a mountain ledge, about to fall at any time.
The priest came out through a vestibule from the anteroom behind the alter, wearing his black funeral vestment. Billy thought the design on the front of the robe looked like an upside-down peace sign. Ornate circles and diamonds trimmed in red and gold lay within the design. Though the vestment was an obvious signal of death, there was an element of hope in the filigree of the trim. He began to intone solemnly.
—Oh, God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our brother, Pierce Joseph Granger. We thank you for giving him to us, his family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us quiet confidence that we may continue our course in faith.
The assembly began to grieve quietly, in reflective lamentation. Billy felt his body shudder reflexively. But his eyes remained set upon his father’s casket. The priest continued his simple liturgy.
—May Christ comfort you, as you follow him on the path now set before you. With God’s help, I will journey beside you. With God’s help, I will watch and wait with you. And with God’s help I will witness the love of Christ by my presence and prayers with you. Before God and your loved ones, I commit myself to you in the name of Christ.
Sitting next to Ingrid at the conclusion of his prayer, the priest left the podium open to anyone who cared to speak in Pierce’s behalf—solicitously holding the bereaved woman’s hand. Almost immediately, Charley Ward stood up and walked resolutely to the head of the church and up to the platform. With great anxiety, he began to speak.
—Hi, everybody. I’m Charley Ward. Pierce, was my best friend. We were neighbors for almost twenty years. Our kids grew up together. The boys built a retaining wall in my backyard, for my peonies. Doc was my golf partner and mentor—even though I could never get my swing right.
Charley glanced out in the direction of Ron and Paul, who were seated with their families directly behind Ingrid and the children. He offered a vague, slight smile.
—I’d…I don’t know what I’m gonna do without Doc. I don’t know who I’m gonna ask for advice about building a deck or a wall. I don’t know who I’m gonna borrow tools from. I don’t know who I’m gonna call when the roses start showing rot. I don’t know what I’m gonna do…
Hurriedly, Charley moved down the steps of the dais and back to his seat, with his wife and Corinne, in the front row of pews across from the family.
The pulpit stood empty for quite some time. Finally, Peter Granger stood and moved toward the platform.
—I always looked up to Pierce. I guess you could say my older brother was my hero. He could do everything better than I could. And he proved it in just about every way possible. He was a better man than I am and I will miss him every day.
Peter briskly stepped down, returning to his place next to Rose.
Again the plinth stood empty for several minutes. Billy looked around and somewhat reluctantly went forward. He stood, for a moment, in front of the mourners, taking a deep breath and collecting his thoughts.
—Just like Charley and Uncle Pete said, my dad was my friend and my hero, too. I think he taught me everything I know. Or at least everything that was worth knowing. He taught me how to throw a baseball and how to hit it and field it. He came to all my baseball games.
He looked in Denny’s direction and corrected himself.
—All of our baseball games. And he always encouraged us and never berated us when we acted like clowns out there, or anything.
Billy smiled at his brother. Denny, eyes red and swollen, smirked a crooked grin at his brother, head bobbing from side-to-side..
—Dad was a great athlete. He was the best fullback OSU ever saw. And he was a great wrestler and a really great baseball player too. He should have been a major league baseball player, but injuries ended his career in sports. But, instead of crying in his beer, he became a landscape contractor.
His father’s eldest son lifted his head proudly.
—He took care of my mom and me, and my brother and sister. He gave us a great life. He’d do anything for us. He just got me and Denny guitars after we pestered him about it, even though I don’t think he thought it was such a good idea that we got into music. He just wanted us to be happy and to do the best we could. That was the kind of guy he was. He just wanted everybody to do the best they could. He wanted everybody to succeed.
The sounds of sniffles and sobs began to fill the room. Billy’s brave baritone voice continued to fill the room.
—Dad was a great cook. He taught me how to make a great barbecue beef marinade that I’ll pass on to my kids. Chicken enchiladas. He always made homemade ice cream for my mom’s birthday party every summer. I remember that noisy ice cream maker grinding away for hours out on the deck, while we would all be out around the pool, swimming. Dad taught me how to swim and how to ride a bike. Dad taught me how to drive the old green Cadillac and how to fly fish. I hate fishing, but he taught me how and I’m glad he did—because maybe my kids will want to know how someday.
Billy looked directly into his mother’s eyes.
—My dad taught me how to be a great husband and father. He took care of his family. And when I have a family of my own, I’ll take care of them in the same way he taught us. To be generous and kind and thoughtful and understanding. To be a man. To be the head of the family and to be strong and fair.
Denny eyed his brother with abject jealousy and profound admiration. Billy was saying all the things that he wished he could say. But Billy was more eloquent. More mature. Billy was more at ease in front of a crowd. Billy had all the gifts and Denny felt that he had none. In his drunken state, he could only feel sorry for himself and sorry for the whole sorry situation. In a way, he wished that it was Billy who had died instead of his father. Denny would have liked to be in the light, out from behind Billy’s shadow.