I am not sure how many more members of the Greatest Generation I will get to bury. If it turns out that the one who died at age 87 this month was the last in my congregation, it will have been a magnificent way to end the chapter.
Ernie was an unassuming man. He was decorated for valor, but did not go on to have an “important career” in any worldly sense. He died six miles from where he was born and like many who determined to stay in this quiet corner of New Hampshire, had to cobble together an assortment of jobs to provide for his family. He had a bad heart and a big sweet tooth. He was a man of few words, but always a Sunday morning presence in his pastel sports coat.
The town came out for Ernie on Tuesday. We had to start the service late because on the long line of people waiting to get into the Meetinghouse. The librarian closed the library for an hour so all could come to the service. The innkeepers sent over punch and a milk crate full of glass punch cups. The café owner made sure we had a mountain of pastry. One of the school bus driver delivered tuna sandwiches by yellow bus. Even the sexton of the cemetery arrived from his other duties of the day with brownies he and his daughter had baked. Church members had been busy for days organizing food platters and weeding the ground-cover out front. We all wanted to get it right for Ernie.
Four of Ernie’s children and grandchildren spoke at the service. They told wickedly funny stories to remind us of serious things.
The lesson I won’t forget? The story of a father who had earned a Silver Star during WWII and whose oldest son was already in uniform during the Vietnam era, who nevertheless did not question his second son’s decision to register as a conscientious objector.
I still deal with families that fractured and never completed healed as result of their disagreements they had during the Vietnam Era. I wish those families had known the wide embrace this quiet man with a knack for accepting people just as they were.
This week I was proud of my church and proud of my town and proud to have taken part in our farewell to one of the Greatest.