I can't really give a report on what happened at The Tobacco Hut yesterday as I wasn't there. I typically don't let things like family obligations get in the way of a visit to my favorite smoke shop, but this was an important, albeit sad, one. My mother's older sister, Vivian, passed away earlier in the week and her memorial service was Saturday morning.
Actually, most of my family knows to schedule things around my weekly Hut visits but, for some reason, nobody consulted me on this one.
So there I was, at St. John's Episcopal Church in Brooksville, honoring my aunt. Few people called her Vivian, she was affectionately known as Aunt Binnie. She was born in 1918 and lived most of her life in Avon, New York. She retired to Florida in the 1980s to St. Petersburg, and moved in with my cousin in Spring Hill in the early 90s, just down the road from my mother.
As I sat in the church, I recalled the tremendous memories I had as a child of spending time with Aunt Binnie. She lived in the upstairs apartment of a duplex on Genesee St. in Avon and through her backyard I could get to some nearby train tracks. Aunt Binnie was always very generous with pennies and nickels to place on the tracks. She wisely wouldn't let me race down to the tracks when I heard the Livonia Railroad train's whistle approaching. But I could see the train from her kitchen window and once it passed, I would then race to the tracks and collect my flattened coins.
I remember one time asking her if I could place other, larger, objects on the rail, like a car battery I had seen in the ditch beside the tracks. Again, her wisdom won out and I was forbidden to place anything other than coins on the rails.
She kept a Mason jar on the windowsill in her kitchen, the collection of flattened pennies and nickels growing slowly, with the occasional quarter joining them.
Even though I wasn't able to enjoy a pipe at church (although I firmly believe that smoking a pipe during a funeral service is the perfect contemplative vehicle for reflecting on a loved one's long life), my role in the occasion was not entirely passive. I was asked, by my mother, to read a psalm to the congregation.
Let me back up just a bit. On Friday, I called Joe K to let him know that I wouldn't be at the Hut on Saturday because of this memorial service. He expressed the requisite condolences but laughed out loud when I let him know that I was to provide one of the readings at the church. As many of you know, I count myself in the 6% of Americans who "believe that no god or universal spirit exist" in the words of the 2008 Gallup poll. Anyway, Joe and I had a good laugh at the irony of it.
So, at the appropriate time in the service, I found myself walking to the dais to read Psalm 121 to the good folks who had turned out to remember Aunt Binnie, or Vivian as most of them knew her. My reading went flawlessly, no words were fumbled, and as I returned to my seat in the pew I fished a quarter out of my pocket and flicked it skyward.