This is the first part of a rather long ongoing story
"At times like this", said Roger Parkin as he stood beside my father's coffin, "folks usually say that the deceased was a good and kindly man who will be sadly missed by all and sundry. It seems at a funeral nobody thinks twice about lying in church."
Oh dear … I thought as I felt my mother stiffen beside me.
"Well, I won't do it," Roger continued. "Hiram Leggat was a drunk, and a swindler. He cheat and beat on his wife and I never saw that man do a day's work in fifteen years. No use telling me his legs was broke in that fall from Percy's barn. I know it, and I know they fixed themselves back just fine. I won't miss Hiram, and I'll just bet his family heaved a great big sigh of relief the day he finally drunk hisself to death."
The feathers on the hats of the Ladies Aid Society quivered in indignation, and a murmur of 'Well really!" ran around the little white-painted church. You simply DON'T speak ill of the dead in Walters Creek. Why if the devil himself died here, you could bet some fine upstanding citizen would take voice at his funeral and tell you with a small, sad smile that, "You could always be sure of a warm welcome at Old Nick's place"
What I'm saying is that even if they'd known what it was like living with my Pa, which they didn't, not by a long chalk, they would still have found something nice to say about him. Now I'm not claiming that Pa didn't have any redeeming qualities -- I'm just saying that if he did, well I never found out what they were.
So, in that moment Roger became my hero. Of course his little speech left the rest of the folks who were to speak after him in something of a dilemma. If they were to say what they'd planned to say they might show themselves up as hypocrites and liars - but to speak the way Roger had, well, that was just plain unthinkable. Not one person in that church had a single good word for my Pa when he was living - but they had planned to exercise some charity once he was dead. Roger had robbed them of that chance, but at the same time he'd saved me and my mother, who was still carrying the bruises from the last beating Pa had given her, from having to listen to a lot of empty, insincere words about what a first-rate man that monster we had lived with really was.
There was a short silence before the minister stood up and went on with the service - the bits about the Lord giving and taking away. I thought how comforting his ritual must be to him, never being at a loss for words so to speak, him having his speeches passed to him by some higher authority and all. It didn't take much longer before it was all done and my father was covered over in his grave in the poor folks part of the churchyard. And Mama, my poor beaten mother, walked away from his grave with her back straight and her head held high like a queen, smiling and looking for all the world like her cares had been laid to rest with Pa.
One by one, the upright inhabitants of Walter's Creek turned their back on us as we walked away from that grave - all but kind, faithful Roger. He put his hands out to take hers and mine and said "If there's anything I can do for you Isabel, Rosie, just you holler out, you hear?"
I guess owning the only store for thirty miles means Roger can ignore public outrage -- after all it isn't like folks can shun him is it? I mean to say, what would they do for sugar?
Me and Mama though, we can't afford to ignore it, so I think we'll be moving on. I can't say that I'm going to miss Walter's Creek; there are so many memories here and so few of them are good. But before I go, I'm going to write down in black and white what has been going on for all these years. If I write it down, maybe I can leave it behind me, and make a clean start. And maybe the good folk here, because they really are good folk, will come to understand a little better, and bring themselves think of us with kindness when we've gone.