The affair started out somber enough. Many of us were obviously having some personal reminisces of our time with Carol Jean. The women were tight-lipped and hard-hearted. Many men’s minds teeter-tottered between dreamy (or steamy) memories and regret at her parting. We milled around inside the reception room, clustering together, waiting to begin.
Soon, Caroline poked her platinum head in and yoo-hooed to the crowd, stunning us all into silence. She sashayed her way to the small stage and grabbed a microphone. “Thank you for coming to honor my mother today. While the details of my mother’s death are horrific and her murder unjustified . . .” A harrumph from the back of the room and general shifting in chairs made Caroline falter momentarily. “I know my mother’s behavior forced a lot of you to have some strong feelings about her . . . and, um, for her. I spoke with my mother in the weeks before she was gone and she said she regretted any upset she had caused.” A posthumous acknowledgement of Carol Jean’s sins and possibly a public apology by her daughter? I was shocked. I might have to reconsider Caroline. “No matter what your memories, l propose a toast to my mother’s passion.” Several waiters rolled in cases of wine that Mr. Hammock immediately recognized.
The wine Carol Jean had apparently squirreled away from her expeditions to Hammock’s store was now flowing plentifully and I noticed some of the men were knocking back some of the harder stuff that they had brought themselves--drowning their sorrows apparently.
Inspired by the soloist, several of the men joined together and commiserated as they gave their own baleful interpretation of You Are So Beautiful to Me. On the last verse, they were interrupted by an inebriated Mrs. Owens (generally known throughout the county for her acclaimed and oft-repeated funereal rendition of Amazing Grace) belting out Celebrate Good Times. As she neared the chorus, many of the wives joined in on the “Come on! Let’s celebrate!”
At that moment, we women gave up any pretense of mourning and the catered memorial dinner for Carol Jean evolved into a full-out party. At some point a few hours in, someone proposed a toast to Greta, the incarcerated yoga instructor, and all of us females heartily raised a glass. Over beef bourguignon, we celebrated her demise while the men celebrated her life.
The only regret of the evening was when Mrs. Hammock threw her back out in the conga line; the injury pretty much shut our party down.
By that time, we were all as loosened up as Carol Jean’s morals had been. As we weaved our way out of the reception hall, Caroline handed each individual a bottle of wine from Carol Jean’s own stash as a token to remember her by. Unbeknownst to the wives though, it was only the husbands that were the recipients of Caroline’s sly wink and the briefest of pats to their backsides.