Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Eulogy for Meno (1953-2006)

By Nicholas Stix

Delivered circa March 8, 2006

[My brother-in-law Meno was the closest thing I ever had to a brother. Fifty-five days before he died, he had collapsed at his mother’s funeral.

Once again, we rushed to Trinidad. Three or four days after his death, we went to claim him at the morgue at San Fernando General Hospital. It was a cold but not freezing room with various platforms for the corpses jutting this way and that. Meno looked like a drunk, sleeping one off. The only thing odd was that his belt was turned this way and that. The Boss said that was likely from the men dragging his girth on and off the stretcher.

He was one sweet-smelling corpse.

One of my sisters-in-law paid the mortuary man the standard $60 TT ($10 US) bribe to release the corpse to the funeral home. The mortuary man, who was about 40, was a friendly Indian, notwithstanding his constant complaints about how hard he had it, in spite of the fact that he was making thousands of dollars per month in bribes for doing what he was already being paid to do.

Another of my five sisters-in-law asked me to deliver a eulogy at Meno’s funeral. I spent three day’s worth of nightly wakes interviewing family and friends about him, and at least eight hours writing and re-writing it. I also had to rehearse it, in order to time it, and to ensure that I wouldn’t lose my composure. Said sister-in-law said, approvingly, “It’s real.” She appreciated that if I was going to deliver a eulogy, it had to get the measure of the man.

The pundit who officiated was a young man who didn’t know Meno from Adam. He had a speech impediment, spoke with a microphone, and mistakenly thought he was in charge.

The family had had a falling-out with its older, traditional pundit over money, and the sister-in-law who had paid the bribe at the Hospital put her pundit in, to control that part of the budget, and have the younger man in her debt.

Meno and the old man had had their rifts, too. Just one year earlier, during the wedding of our eldest nephew, Meno hung out at the edge of Pa’s parking lot with the boy’s divorced father and a cousin, like a bunch of truants, drinking 150-proof puncheon rum. I had to run over and beg and cajole our nephew’s father into participating in his own son’s wedding (his drinking actually made him ineligible, but there were too many virtues and sins for me to weigh), while Meno threw insults at the pundit. It was one of the only two times I’d ever seen or heard of him being cross with anyone. The other time was the day before he died, when he yelled at a beloved niece. He must have been feeling severe chest pains.

Still, the old pundit showed up for Meno’s funeral, and when his turn came in the procession to the casket, he spoke to Meno:

“O.k., Meno, you call me Monday morning.

“Your sister didn’t want me to come.”

(I know the first sentence sounds weird, but that’s what my notes say.)

The first eulogy was by Subhas Panday, MP, the younger brother of the Indian former prime minister, Basdeo Panday. The Panday brothers and Ma and Pa had grown up together. Ma used to babysit and bathe Subhas, though not for money.

I spoke to Panday at one of the wakes. He knew his way around Queens—he frequently visited the Indian neighborhood in South Ozone Park—and was familiar with the bridge that took the A train from the mainland, via Jamaica Bay, to the Rockaways.

Panday told me that Ma had been the prettiest girl in the region, and that his brother would have attended her funeral in January, but he was out of the country at the time. It was all a lie—Bas Panday was a jet-setter, and had no time for anyone in Pa’s family, let alone a woman—but it was nice of Subhas to say it.

He forgot who I was, as soon as he’d spoken to me.

At the funeral, there were over 100 people. Subhas spoke extemporaneously, but he had a gift. He spoke of Meno as “my brother,” and once called him by the nickname by which everyone in town knew him: “Fat Boy.”

Panday mentioned in passing that Meno had had dealings with some commission that doled out contracting jobs. He finessed the particulars: Subhas was a provider of patronage, while Meno was notoriously contemptuous and mocking of such fixers.

After Subhas spoke, the pundit sought to wrap things up. I had to interrupt him. He told me I had five minutes; I told him I had seven. I said “No, thanks” to his microphone. I ensured that everyone under the canopy and in Pa’s big parking lot 100 feet away could hear my voice.

The text that follows contains some dialect, e.g., “he make joke,” and “d’” for the.]

The Eulogy

Since Meno became my brother-in-law, we have spoken on the phone 20 or 30 times a year, and have seen each other almost every year, when [The Boss] and I, and later [our son], would come on visits.

Although our son would only see Meno and Ma once a year, he always remembered them, as if he had never left [town]. Meno would play monster for [him].

He was a good uncle.

Meno had no illusions about the world. He said we are surrounded by crooks. He had no respect for politicians of any party, or for pundits. But he did not rage; instead, he make joke at the crooks’ expense. And at his own expense, such as when he spoke of his brief time as a Pentecostal minister, and said he d’ [the] biggest crook of all. But Meno wasn’t a crook; he was just making joke on himself.

After Meno passed, I began to hear stories about him that some of you will be long familiar with.

One friend told of Meno’s legendary skill as a truck mechanic. It seems that one day Meno got his truck all mashed up. Her spent all night working on the truck, and got it running again the next morning.

And Meno was of course was a legendary drinker. One friend of Meno’s told me that Meno once drank ten 40-ounce bottles of rum in one day, mixed in with water and with beer chasers. Another time, the friend said that Meno drank 48 beers in less than two hours.

The stories cannot possibly be true, because no man could drink so much, so fast, and survive. The point is that legendary drinkers must have drinking legends!

I have known many drinkers, and they usually had foul tempers at some point. But I never saw a nasty side to Meno.

Meno was also legendary for his generosity. Why he was so generous to some people who did not deserve it, has long been a mystery to myself, as well as to others. If his wife had not died, and they had had children, I believe that Meno would have been more careful with his money.

But the bottom line was that although Meno worked hard for almost all his life, he did not care about money, nor was he impressed by those who had great sums.

In recent years, Meno suffered great pain. He did not say to me or d’Madame [my wife], “Man, I painin,” but you did not have to be psychic to see how he suffered.

Diabetes and circulatory problems, his weight, cataracts, hypertension, and the effects of a toe that a butcher at San Fernando General [Hospital] chopped off last year unnecessarily, did not stitch up, and which never healed, all pained him.

As you know, Meno collapsed at Ma’s funeral. At the time, people said his sugar was low and his pressure was high. But that was a warning of things to come.

One week before his death, while riding with friends to a rum shop, Meno felt chest pains, and had them bring him home. That was a second warning.

And on the day he died, Meno was in a rum shop, paying for other people’s drinks, when he began to feel drowsy, just before the heart attack that would claim him.

That was warning number three.

But Meno’s pain is no more.

Some people have claimed that Meno was drinking when he died. That is not true.

In the mortuary at San Fernando General, I bid my beloved brother-in-law farewell two times. He did not smell at all of alcohol. Later, the doctor who performed the autopsy said that Meno had no alcohol in his system.

Meno and [The Boss] were very close. [Her] favorite Meno story was of the time, around 1990, when she was doing the census. Meno picked her up from work in his truck. Meno claimed he had had too much to drink, and while driving, took his hands off the wheel [this was surely a prank]. [She] went crazy, grabbing for the steering wheel, to keep from having an accident.

Meno was a good brother.

My favorite Meno story is from last year, when our nephew […] was getting married. I went with Meno to rent the chairs. Once we packed the chairs on his truck, we went to Darrel’s in New Grant, where we drank [150-proof] puncheon rum and Carib [beer] chasers, and ate Darrel’s famous roast chicken, before bringing the chairs here. D’ Madame could not tell that I’d been drinking, and Meno of course covered for me.

After Ma’s funeral, Meno cut out newspaper articles to help me in my work. I never asked him to do it, but it was very kind of him to do it, and it helped me a great deal in my work.

Meno was a good brother-in-law.

Meno was very close to Ma. The first time [The Boss] brought me home on a visit, one night Meno hugged Ma and said she was, “My Queenie.”

In recent years, Meno and Ma both had trouble sleeping. At 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning every night, they would meet in the living room, and head for the kitchen. Meno would make coffee, and they would talk about ting [things]. And then they would go back to sleep until 5:30.

Meno made a good cup of coffee.

Someone said that if Meno had died before Ma, there would have been two funerals. As it is, pretty much the same thing happened in reverse sequence.

After Ma passed, Meno and Pa were becoming very close again. They were talking a lot for the first time in years.

Meno was a good son.

On previous visits, I could meet a total stranger in a maxi [taxi van], for instance, and say I was headed for the two trucks by Public Works, and the man would say, “Fat Boy!”

Everyone knew Meno, and all had a kind word to say about him, and a smile.

On Monday at San Fernando General, I met a funeral director who was waiting on a body. When I told the man that Meno had died, the man sat down on the curb with tears in his eyes.

Someone said that the man was so upset, because he did not get the job [of carrying Meno’s body], but I prefer to think that he felt regret at Meno’s passing.

On behalf of Pa, and all of Meno’s sisters and brothers-in-law, and nieces and nephews, we’ll all miss you.

Meno was the closest thing I ever had to a brother. Goodbye, Meno; goodbye, my friend.

[Meno lay in his coffin in an elegant, traditional Hindu death suit, covered in several pounds of flowers. We put his coffin in a hearse, which transported it to the place by the river, where he would be burned. The pundit poured a couple of gallons of oil on his body, and said a prayer. Eight pallbearers, including yours truly, then carried him for about five minutes, before putting him down for another prayer from the pundit. When we picked him up again, two pallbearers had vanished, leaving six of us to carry the 350-375 pounds to the next several stops, and finally to the platform where he would be immolated.

It took several hours for Meno to burn, with his head going last. Finally, his ashes were swept into the river.]

1 comment:

jeigheff said...

The heart knoweth his own bitterness, and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.

I cannot intrude on your family's sorrow. Still, I salute you for Meno's compassionate and beautiful eulogy. Thank you for sharing it with us.