The ground was damp from the previous day's rain. It was still thirsty, though, and I know this because I heard three gentlemen say it was so and I believed them. Standing there just on the edge of the grass where it met the tired path I was walking on, they rocked slowly on their heels and looked up at the sky.
"Gonna need a lot more of what we got yesterday," one said and the other two agreed, not with words, but ever-so-slight nods. The sound of change jingling in a pocket mingled with voices farther up on the grass where people gathered in a muggy afternoon heat.
"You're Sybil's daughter," one of the men said as he wiped his brow with a white hankerchief. It was one of those half-statement/half-question kind of things where he wasn't quite sure if I was but he was going to come right out and say it anyway.
I said, "Yes sir, I am," and each of them said something akin to how they hadn't seen me in a while and they remembered when I was a little thing. Then one of them said he guessed we ought to move up closer and I started walking again, this time off the tired red dirt path and onto the green grass sprinkled with tiny pieces of gravel, careful in my steps through the maze of graves around me.
It was a solemn summer day.
We had all gathered for a funeral. Uncle Walter died on a Saturday morning, and about now I imagine he's found his bride, our GoGo, and there's no doubt in my mind that if there's a Harley Heaven, they're in it.
I saw the basket straight away, sitting on the ground next to the green tent, right beside the stand holding the signature book. The basket wasn't large, just big enough to hold its treasures. Crisp white with a curved edge and black printing, stapled in the middle to a handle made of smooth, thin wood. There were dozens of them, all back-to-back tucked in the basket. Funeral home fans.
All around me people talked, quietly and reverently, neighbors who had seen each other just that morning, I suppose, and others who had long since moved and come home to say goodbye. "You haven't changed," one woman said, pausing from her fanning only for a moment as she hugged what I assumed an old friend. Then it started again. Her wrist, back and forth it moved, the wooden handle firmly in her grip, the white paper fan cutting through the thick heat.
"Lord, I don't know what we'd do without these funeral home fans," she said and the half-dozen ladies around her agreed. Not with words, but ever-so-slight nods and smooth mmm hmms.
"Do you need one, sugar?" someone from behind me asked and I smiled and turned to reveal that I already had one in hand. "Just making sure," she said and patted me gently on the shounder as she continued on, basket in hand, delivering fans to new people making their way.
During the service, like so many others I moved my fan slowly through the air in front of me. A lady standing near the edge of the trees held hers in front of her face, and then I realized she was trying to hide her tears. A man nearby held his over his heart almost at attention. And many of us laid our fans on the ground at the end as everyone made a big circle around the tent and held hands while we recited the Lord's Prayer.
"Don't forget your fan," an older woman reminded me as we said good-bye, and I picked it up and dusted off bits of grass. I asked if we should put them back in the basket, but she shook her head no.
"You take it, sugar," she said, "It's not much but it will remind you of a day when you came to say good-bye to a kind man."
And I made my way back through the maze of graves, back to the tired red dirth path to my car, moving my fan slowly back and forth. Back and forth. Cutting the heat of a solemn summer day.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.