From the story, When Murray Met Helen

The way Helen had it figured, she was going to be there for Murray no matter what. Which is why she knew she had to speak her piece at his funeral. It’s also why she felt compelled to attend the reception afterwards, which was in a large hall south of downtown, hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“I’m kinda guessin’ an older crowd,” Rick said, as he drove across the Menomonee River.

Helen chuckled, and continued to dab her eyes with a frayed kleenex.

That’s all either of them could think to say en route. And that was just fine with Helen. Rick wasn’t trying to impress her, or console her, and whatever he wanted to tell her about her stirring eulogy, that was going to wait as well. She was impressed that he was at ease with extended periods of silence and she took comfort and pleasure in the way his clothes held hints of cedar and green apple.

By the time they got there, the hall was already nearly packed and the buffet was underway. It was a siege of consolation food. Yard-long pans of scalloped potatoes, stroganoff, lasagna, chicken cacciatore served over a bed of rotini, goulash, and broccoli swimming in a deep medley of cheeses. There were three kinds of meatloaves, eight variations of potato salad, a baron of beef, a platter of kielbasa, a Mexican pie dish layered with refried beans, chunks of flank steak, sour cream, salsa, topped with shredded iceberg lettuce and melted pieces of cheddar and Monterey jack.

“We’re going straight to the gym after this, right?” Rick whispered to her.

There were small tables devoted entirely to jello dishes and, down at the far end of the “U,” a table double-parked with seemingly every variety of pie, even a double-chocolate meringue number that was topped with a circle of small American flags.

As she studied their choices, and as dozens of pairs of eyes studied her and Rick, Helen felt a nudge at her elbow.

It was the young woman soldier who’d served in Afghanistan, who had helped to carry Murray’s casket into the church.

“I’m Lieutenant McEwan,” she said, “I just want to thank you for what you said about Mister Trager today. It was very touching and you were very well-spoken.”

Around this small encounter a crowd gathered to hear what both had to say to each other, and then to what others had to say as they complimented Helen on her eulogy.

“Boy, I hope you come to speak at my funeral,” said a woman, obviously in her eighties, with a strong smile and a slight tremor in her voice.

The buffet line now had a big knot in it. It wasn’t moving, at least not until everyone who noticed Helen had gotten a chance to shake her hand.

When she finally got to the table where Rick had rested their plates, she was nearly overcome with emotion.

“I’m thinking some USO tours for you Helen,” Rick said.

After she’d composed herself, Renard stopped by and introduced her to an elderly lawyer who apologized that he was having to leave so abruptly.

“Harry Michaels,” he said pleasantly when he reached for her hand. “We will have to be in touch.”

She could tell that he really meant it.

At the front of the hall, where earlier a real trumpeter had played taps, and a small band had played the Marine’s Hymn, a wiry, elderly black man, a Korean War veteran, now sat at a piano.

He started playing Danny Boy, real slow, the way Bill Evans would have played it. Within seconds, the room became silent, and people wept for Murray, though no one more than Helen.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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