By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
“Ol’ man Cy died,” my friend informed me.
Suddenly the day, already pleasant, seemed a little sunnier, a little more cheerful. While the morning headlines did not offer anything reassuring for the world’s future, Bob’s news demonstrated good things do happen. “Really?” I said
“Yeah, really. And I’ve been asked—and agreed—to do the eulogy.”
This would be a formidable task. Years ago, I lived on the same block Bob and his neighbor “Cy” lived on. Cy was an aloof, cold and hateful old man with a devil-given knack for alienating others. I expressed my sympathies to Bob for his assignment, for he would have to lie to say anything good about the deceased, but it was his nature to be truthfully blunt. “Who asked you to give the eulogy?” I asked.
“Aw, that stuck-up wife of his. I don’t know, maybe that witch was the reason Cy was like he was. You remember their house and yard, like they were creating their own private ‘Eden.’ It took a lot of effort to maintain, no doubt. It had to be perfect, too. I imagine it wore on the man. They had the best yard, the cleanest house, the best vegetable garden every year, but it was solely for them. And the old woman was friendly, sometimes. Cy never was! It was like he hated everything and everybody! If you happened to run into him, you could feel the contemptuous tolerance he oozed—and to think I have to eulogize the man! Listen, I know you’ve been gone for a while; but you keep in touch, and you’re pretty good at telling ‘whoppers.’ Can you help me come up with some for Cy? I don’t know what you can say good about a man who didn’t like anybody and who nobody liked, but—can you help?”
I felt that I could, and said, “Bob, you have the seeds of some positive comments, yourself. I knew Cy for a decade or so. You know the only time I ever saw him smile was at funerals? He always loved it when a neighbor died! He would go to the funeral, and laugh, joke, cut up, and be generally in a playful mood. So you can perhaps say, ‘Cy always brought an element of happiness and cheer to solemn events like this.’ It was his own cheer, maybe, but it was there.”
“You’re right!” Bob observed. “You know, most of the neighbors intend to be at his service—just to make sure he’s dead—and we’ll be smiling and joking, too, the same way Cy always did. There’s something to said about a life that brings happiness when it ends, isn’t there.”
“And you mentioned how hard he worked on his ‘private Eden.’ Take that to town, somehow: ‘He maintained himself and property fastidiously, in such a way as to not be a bother to anybody.’ Don’t tell the assembled he was a maladjusted, antisocial misanthrope who hated everybody. After all, while anybody who knew him did not like him, there were some on the block who did not dislike him because they did not know him.”
“I could work that in,” Bob said enthusiastically. “And you know how he called the police on us one night, when cars were parked on the street for my son’s birthday? They were parked legally, no problem with the officers, and it was a quiet party. The officers even had some cake! But he’s called the police on three or four different families for nothing that broke any law or that was really offensive. It’s all about him, I guess, just sharing his misery. But this will fit in on how Cy always took care of his neighbors’ morals and well-being, you think?”
“Well, sure. He had a concern for the community. It was wrapped up in his concerns for his personal comfort, perhaps, but throw it in. Bob, sometimes the biggest falsehoods result in how you present the truth. And if you do it right, his survivors will think he’ll get a better pair of wings, a first-class harp and an extra halo. We will know better, though.”
Bob left greatly encouraged.
Mark Twain advised, “Let us live so that when we die even the undertaker will be sorry.” I hope we all can do this, for this will bring fond and precious memories. If you can’t, though, die like Cy. People will be comforted either way.