It was unseasonably warm for Halloween, but that was okay. I was outdoors to help bury a friend. Andy Rupf passed away at the age of 40 and there we were, standing around where his ashes were to be interred: saddened, confused, maybe a little angry, alone even in a crowd. As the preacher raised his hand over Andy for the final time and we said “Amen” five us congregated together. Four friends I hadn’t seen in a year. Or more.
Ironically that we met at his wedding. Now his funeral brought us back together.
The funeral had been nice, but surprisingly joyous. Friend, family, pastor, all had been touched by Andy. By his quirky sense of humor. By his love of life and Star Wars. During the ceremony, we listened to Ray Stevens and a song called “Code Monkey” (Andy was a programmer), we watched as his niece gave a eulogy using grammer rules that would have made Yoda proud.
Some laughed. But I couldn’t get over the fact this was a funeral and I would never see my friend again.
As we stood huddled after the interrment, the question arose, like it always does. “You want to get something to eat?” We all did. “Where do we go?”
Despite being about eight blocks away from Jasper’s, I didn’t want to say “Jasper’s.” Everytime I see Chef Jasper, he’s always so full of life and excitement about cheese or produce or wine or mostarda. It felt wrong to bring four people from a funeral to that.
“Jasper’s?” I said. It felt wrong not to.
We drove there and parked. I peered into his office where Chef Jasper saw me and waved me through the door since he didn’t have keys to unlock the office. He met us in the Marco Polo’s deli section of his restaurant with a warm handshake.
“What are you all here for?” he asked with a smile.
“We just got done with a funeral.”
“Oh,” the smile faded. “What are you having?”
“I think I have them talked into the Chicken Saltimbucco, Chef.”
The smile returned and he was off into the kitchen.
There was something about standing in line that maybe lit a spark. The wonder of the dishes perhaps. The description of the Chicken Saltimbucco. The promise of good food, I don’t know.
But a trickle of conversation had started by the time we sat down. Mainly about sports, but also about work and life.
Still, it wasn’t until we were all seated that it arrived: a plate of 8 meatballs cooked for who knows how long in the Mirabile family Sunday gravy (or at least it’s closest made-from-scratch restaurant equivalent.) I looked across the deli to where Chef was yelling out orders like a culinary cop directing traffic and he winked.
I smiled. I had almost ordered a meatball sandwich, but the chicken salt was a tradition.
It took my friends all of maybe three seconds to tear into the meatballs. Where there was a few words here and there before, there was only the sound of happy mouths as we ate the meatballs held firmly in Italian bread. I don’t know, I might have burped. Probably did.
But it was the strangest thing. Maybe there was happy juice in the meatballs, but I think in the end, it was just really good food that turned that earlier reserved, quiet conversation into something genuine. It might have been just me, but as we ate our food, I felt happy again. Restored somehow.
I’m not going to say that the Andy-sized hole in my soul was filled up with meatballs. I still miss my friend and I have to live with the fact that I’ll never see him in this world again. Even worse, as I look out from my desk, I can almost see where Andy’s body lies. I hope he’s off in a better place where he doesn’t have to wait to get on a WoW server and where lightsabers are real, but since he’s in Heaven he doesn’t have to worry about losing an arm. I hope he got his beer and pizza. I hope he’s happy.
Andy’s funeral taught me one thing. I always said I wanted my funeral to be a funny affair. I wanted everyone to be happy remembering the good times we had, but when given that chance for Andy, I couldn’t do it. Selfishly, I want my friend back.
So I think that when I pass, I want people to be WAILING. UPSET. TEARING THEIR CLOTHES IN DESPAIR.
Well, that’s not true. I want everything to be short. I want the preacher to come up and say I was a man of God. I want someone to play “I’ll Back You Up” by Dave Matthews Band. I want Tina and E to know that I loved them both and then I want it over. No more time dwelling on me.
And wherever you are. Whether you think I cared about you (I did), remembered you (I did), or called you a friend (I did) or, I want you to find an Italian place and some friends. Remember all the goofball things I did and all the recipes I made you try that you liked and all the recipes I made you try that you didn’t. Share with each other and remember the good times. Try to forget when I was cranky or stubborn. Do that for me.
But most importantly, do one other thing. Smile and order a plate of meatballs.