Sat, Jun 27, 2009
Jeremy Glazer was the winner in the Amateur category of Under the Sun‘s unpublished writers competition.
by Jeremy Glazer
Nobody wears sunglasses at a funeral where I’m from.
It isn’t something we do, and not only because nine months out of the year we are in frigid gloom and darkness, but because somehow it just isn’t right. Sunglasses are for vacation, for fun. Not for a cemetery.
But things are different in Miami. And I realized that very quickly as the mourners filed in to my dad’s memorial service. Sunglasses, fuschia-flowered dresses, open-chested bright silk shirts.
Who were these people? Could my dad have been part of this tribe?
He had moved down here after the divorce, at fifty-seven. The joke in our family was that our parents had stayed together until the children married. And while my Mom was still in our old house outside Boston, Dad opted for a completely new life in Florida.
He had met and married my step-mother within the first year, and was with her until ten years later when he dropped dead of a heart attack on a tennis court. No joke, on a tennis court. They were playing doubles.
She introduced him to Miami life, which he was more than happy to share with me through faithful postcards— these were the best way for him to communicate as they involved only two or three sentences with a picture— and the one awkward visit I made. During those three days he showed me everything he had learned in Miami: real shrimp kreyol, sunset in the Keys, guayabera shirts, sandals, linen pants.
And the Spanish. Here he was, a retired insurance salesman, taking classes for two hours, three nights a week to mold his lips into new shapes, to roll his r’s.
“I never felt I belonged up there,” he told me, in a moment of seriousness. “This is my place.”
He shared his fantasy of going into a cafeteria, that’s what they call restaurants down there, ordering a coffee, and having the waitress respond in Spanish, not knowing he was a gringo.
I thought about all this while looking at the circus of people standing around his gravesite. Some were still arriving, a full half hour after the funeral had started.
“It’s a Miami thing,” my stepmother whispered.
The wake was at Versailles, a local Cuban place that managed to combine un-ironic Las Vegas kitsch, Havana cool, and the eponymous French palace, in that order. It was his favorite restaurant.
I drove by the cemetery on my way to the airport two days later to say goodbye one last time. I didn’t know when I’d be back in this Fellini film of a city, and they had promised to lay the headstone as soon as possible so I could take a look.
I recognized the spot—two palm trees next to a flowering mango. Even the cemetery was brimming with lush life. I walked over, looked down at the name and burst out laughing at the mistake.
Robert Clayton, insurance salesman, ninth-generation Massachusetts, had been accidentally re-christened Roberto.
Finally, he was home.
Bio: Jeremy Glazer is a Miami native who has escaped several times but always seems to end up back here. He is a former high school teacher now working in county government and finishing his first novel. He lives on Miami Beach.
Listen to Jeremy Glazer talk about his entry.
Funding for this episode provided by a grant from The Florida Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.