Saturday, September 6, 2008

"Big Ab" (Uncle Abner)

Abner Earl Turner was my last legitimate uncle. Actually he was my great uncle, being my grandfather Clint's baby brother. The youngest son of my great grandparents, Augustus and Roberta Turner, he died July 21, 2008 in Roanoke, Va., the same place he was born. He was 77 years old. The father of 9: Carla, Vicky, Keith, Greg, Brock, Race, Dawn, Hunt and Tara; the first 3 preceding him in death. Coming in at somewhere between welter and bantamweight, what he lacked in size he more than made up for in trash talking and character. He swore he could sing. He played the ukelele. Simply not able to remember his many nieces' and nephews' names, all of us girls were "Boop" and the boys were "Buddy, Buddy" - even once we were grown. I'm not sure about anyone else, but when he called me "Boop", I felt special. Perhaps that was the intent.

My summer work schedule didn't allow me to travel to Uncle Abner's funeral in Roanoke on July 25, 2008. Many of us had recently gathered in Kansas City over the 4th of July weekend to attend the Turner family reunion. Neither Big Ab or any of the "twigs" from his branch of the Turner family tree were there. My cousin Nathaniel Thuston, who hosted this year's family reunion did, however, travel to Virginia to help represent his mother Roberta (Big Ab's sister) and agreed to be my guest blogger for this installment of the Funeral Diaries. The following are his observations:

"It was a very nice service--about an hour (Chanute style!). There were several points when I had to restrain Nona from making a scene, especially when the not-ready-for-anytime-Male Chorus was bellowing out some notes!

The only sad part was the previewal. You could hear his eldest granddaughter Dominique (Keith's girl) and I believe, Dawn, sobbing, but other than the usual tears, there was no drama or body snatching. At the wake, the same. There was a drawer open in the casket (a first for me). It was open as we passed by (not at the wake though). Right before they closed the casket, Dawn gave the undertaker a photo and something else (a letter perhaps) which they put in the drawer, closed it and then closed the casket. I hope they gave the key to Uncle Abner--yes, it had a key.

I was sitting by two people I didn't know so I made Michelle (Judy's daughter) move. I sat between Crazy Nona and Michelle on the third row. We spent half the service trying to figure out who some of our people were! Nona was sitting by Esther's daughter Tonya and didn't know it until Michelle told us. Tonya had on shorts and needed to shave her legs (they kinda looked like Timothy's beard) but maybe that's the fashion in VA! Nona promised she was going to stand up and pass out after she counted to 5, but she must have forgotten what comes after 3 'cause she never passed out! I guess the ushers were too close for her caper to have full effect!

The opening hymn, "Bye and Bye", was sung with the gusto of a thousand voice choir--well the chorus anyway. When they started singing verse one, I thought the mics weren't working because we couldn't hear or understand anything they sung. I quickly relaized it wasn't the mics, but the fact that they didn't know the verses NOR could they see well enough to read the hymnal. This was proven by the same ritual during each subsequent verse followed by a resounding chorus! They sang the verses like the teacher speaks on all of the Charlie Brown specials!

Whoever did the program either was mad at Butch or didn't know the difference between he and Duper. They listed Butch (OT) as "Reverend" and Duper (NT ) as "Pastor." They both, of course, read from the "child's" pulpit, to the right of the big boy pulpit. It must've been reserved for the pastor [of the church] because Bishop ThuRston spoke from the little pulpit too! Cousin Judy gave an interesting invocation, she too from the lesser pulpit, but considering her vertical challenges, it was a good thing. Brock said the only thing he could see of her was her head.

Judy's brother Mark sang "He looked beyond my faults..." It was a key or so too high but like any other great singer, he made it work. Full of spirit and energy he sang about 7 minutes. Again, Brock mentioned the rangy baritone soloist turned into a mezzo soprano after the solo (screaming, "Halleluja! Hallelujah!" as he tok his seat!)

The clerk followed by the reading of one condolence and acknowledging 13. The clerk then remarked, "At the request of the family I will read the obituary." Which of course was exactly the same as the printed version. My favorite line, "Big Ab entered into several marriages of matrimony..." This one did include Aunt Ruby as a death preceder.

Race's wife read a nice poem about seizing the day and saying you love somebody because you never know when it's the last time. Bishop L. ThuRston then gave a tribute. It was predetermined (by the pastor) that it was to be a 5 minute tribute, but it was close to 20. It had to be at least 6 pages single-spaced. It was a good tribute and canvassed most of Uncle Abner's life. It included challenges and successess. the theme was how unique he was and ab-normal. The jellybeans in the yard, painted rocks and unique landscape let you know he was abnormal. He mentioned his sarcasm, stylish dressing, ukeleling and singing. Lemuel said Uncle Abner believed he was one of the 10 best singers in Roanoke, even though he wasn't! He didn't really sugarcoat anything but didn't go into gritty details either. It was very apropriately done and his kids were happy. Tey told me that their dad would've been pleased because, unlike his pastor, his nephew (Lemuel) knew him. Rev. ThuRston did have to pause a few times (he didn't break down but he could feel it coming.)

After the tribute, back to the excellent Male chorus! "I've Been Redeemed!" It sounded like the soundtrack from a horror flick! The pastor then came to give a "message of comfort". He began by saying, "to the sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, sisters and brothers (even though Lemuel had just mentioned that there were no more brothers!) after that eulogy by Bishop ThuRston, there's not much left to say." He then let us know he didn't "know Brother Turner long, but in the brief time I knew him I knew him as a singer!" He then went on with his 3 minute message. "We are blessed and our hope is Brother Abner is blessed with great benefits!"

It was then off to the graveyard. They had a cooler outside the tent! No, it wasn't Mogan David, but they had water bottles for everyone. It must be the latest craze in funeralizing! Full military rites were held (taps included) a few last tears and then back to the church for a dinner. Oh, they gave the flag to Greg (the eldest son).

The kitchen committee must have been homeless because they were holding food back. They had baked chicken on display but had fried in the back--available by request only. That was a first!

I got to see Aunt Liz (one of the remaining sisters) and she asked about the funeral and mentioned that she wanted to attend but "they" told her it would be too much. She asked about Roberta and my kids so she was pretty normal--except when she mentioned she'd talked to Ruby (a deceased sister), of course she may have, I just hope Ruby didn't talk back. She did mistakenly say Ruby instead of her daughter Ruth at one point (like Timothy calling Ryan, [his son] Linus [his younger brother]). Paula told me what menopause was even though I told her I already knew! That's a story for another time.

Even though it wasn't a trip for enjoyment, I did have a good time...we went to Race's Saturday afternoon ('til 1:00am) and also got to meet his mother, (Uncle Abner's second wife) Chris - I'd never seen her before. She lives next door to Race and showed us at least 10,000 photos. She told me she knew I was a Thuston because I look just like my father (something I don't hear everyday!) She did mention that she was sorry that her kids didn't get to know their family like they should have but she held no ill will towards Abner's family and we could stay with her when we came to town. She said that even though her divorce wasn't friendly, they had managed to become cordial toward each other over the years and the last time they were together they had a good time and enjoyed each other's company. Supposedly she hasn't been with another man since Uncle Abner and continued to love him.