If a man absconds with money, we say his moral standard is low. On the other hand, if he laughs at a funeral, we say that he has bad manners.

English Composition: A Laboratory Course, 1936 – George R. Steward

Mr. Steward obviously didn’t grow up a preacher’s kid.

In typical fashion, our phone would ring in the middle of the night.

“Death call,” I’d think, right before falling back to into my peaceful slumber. Two days later, I’d be at a funeral of someone I didn’t know.

Some funerals were tragically sad while others were lighthearted.  But whether it was a survival technique or just “bad manners,” I didn’t focus on the grief. Instead, I often chuckled and judged a funeral on a few key metrics: how long it lasted, the strength of the smell from the floral wreaths, the quality of food afterwards (extra points for BBQ), and the sincerity of the eulogy. Scripture quoting was great, but give me a brother recounting WWII paratrooper stories and the stranger lying before me looked like he was almost breathing. It even made the BBQ taste better.

If there weren’t any heartfelt testimonials, I’d make one up.  It was my gift, of sorts. I’d imagine myself standing at the podium telling of the deceased’s great bravery as a sheriff, mountain guide, or  foreign correspondent who risked everything to save a stranded U.S. astronaut in Communist Russia. I’d thank the lady on the front row for wearing her blue dress because it was his favorite and then I’d recount his memory of how they first met – 30 years ago, at fencing lessons. (I suppose I’m indebted to my parents for my creativity and sometimes pungent humor.)

So when Fancy, one of my best friends, called in the middle of the night to tell me her father had passed, I knew that two days later, I’d be at his funeral.

And so it was.

Two days later, Valerie and I landed in Lubbock.  Because our flight was delayed, we were the last ones to arrive at the cemetery.

“You see Fance?” Val asked.

I scanned the mostly Filipino crowd. “Not yet.”

Next to the casket was a green carpet and three rows of folding chairs. Fancy sat on the front row, wearing sleek white silk pants, a black shimmery tunic, and designer sunglasses that made her look like Fergie (the singer, not the Dutchess).

As with many of my friends, Fancy and I are different in a thousand ways, but somehow we work together.

I’m comfortable with books and Fancy’s comfortable on a movie set. My fingernail polish is “Barely Bare,” while she wears “Black Vamp.” My hair is blond, skin pale, and I get a zit right on the end of my nose in times of stress. Fancy, on the other hand, has long honey-colored hair swirling around her at all times like a lion’s mane and permanently sun-kissed skin (on account of her mother being Filipino and all).

Everyone says she’s the most beautiful thing to ever come out of Lubbock in a long time. And that day was no different.

Valerie and I stayed in the back watching our friend grieve. After the priest’s homily and the funeral prayers were said, people stood up to pay their respects with stories.

Before the funeral, I knew that Fancy’s father was 46 when she was born. I knew that he practically raised her by himself. I knew that Fancy grew up without many of the finer things.  I knew that she loved him dearly.

But through his friends and family, I learned much more that day.

I heard how he served 26 years in the Air Force and was in charge of Air Force One’s maintenance. I learned he was on a first name basis with Kennedy and saw him fly mistresses on the presidential plane—including Marilyn. How he fought in Vietnam and the Korean War. I learned he was an incredible driver, even racing cars backward.

Then Fancy stood.

“We didn’t have a lot,” she started, “but we were the richest poor people on the planet.”

Valerie and I listened to our friend recount story after hilarious story of growing up with a father who would do anything to make her happy. Like the time when she begged for a pair of pink roper boots. There they were on Christmas morning; bright pink roper boots . . . at least until it rained. That’s how she learned her father couldn’t find pink ropers, so he improvised and meticulously spray painted brown ropers pink – to make her happy.

When she finished, the people at the front stood and stepped back from the grave, and the ones at the back trickled forward. After we’d all passed the casket, Val and I patiently waited for the priest to dismiss the crowd to lunch.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead, Fancy’s mom walked to the front holding a boom-box. She pressed a button.

Here’s a little song I wrote

You might want to sing it note for note

Don’t worry be happy

Slowly the crowd lined up behind Fancy and her mother, cooing in perfect synchronicity with Bob Marley’s voice.

“Ummm . . . What’s happening?” I whispered to Valerie.

“Got me,” she replied. But then dropping her voice a little added, “Are they forming a conga line?”

I wagged my head in amazement. “Yes, I believe they are.”

In every life we have some trouble

When you worry you make it double

Don’t worry, be happy

When Fancy looked back at us, a tear slid down her face. She motioned to us.

I took a deep breath that was strangely gratifying.

Then Valerie and I joined the conga line.

No song could be sung at a funeral with more decided triumph than that song on that day.  All the family, all the friends, all the guests joined enthusiastically in the celebration of Fancy’s father. Their laughter was the healer of miseries; an expression of love; a jerky burst of color which eventually dried the tears away.

Don’t worry don’t do it, be happy

Put a smile on your face

Don’t bring everybody down like this

Don’t worry, it will soon pass

Whatever it is

Don’t worry, be happy

And I proudly laughed along with them.

Fancy and her Mom

Fancy and Mamasan