Every once in awhile I write one of these, either a wedding speech or a funeral eulogy that convinces me I should never be trusted to give either one of them. Enjoy!
“Thank you, Reverend Myles, for that kind introduction. And thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for coming out on such a solemn day to bid farewell to one of the finest men we’ve all ever had the pleasure to know.
It falls to me to give a eulogy for Michael. His beloved wife Jessica can’t bring herself to say the words. And so I’m going to share some memories of my old friend and try to sort out that question we’re all asking. How could this happen to someone so young and full of life? How could... well, what happened, happened to Michael?
When someone passes away in the way Michael did, we’re plagued with that kind of question. Why? The unfairness of it all. I mean, after all, Michael did nothing at all to provoke crazy old Jebediah Gutherie.
Well, almost nothing.
By the way, I think by now we can all agree that calling Old Man Gutherie crazy is not just an insult.
Michael was that cheerful, happy go lucky sort of person that made friends everywhere he went. He walked around with a zest for life and a spring in his step. We met back in college when we were both studying the law. By the way, is it just me, or does it seem as if an awful lot of lawyers are giving eulogies for other lawyers?
That’s beside the point. Or beyond the point. Or maybe not even the point.
Where was I? Oh yes, back in college. Michael and I became friends. We had other friends, all of whom are here today mourning him. Jessica was one of them. We all got along famously. We’d all party on the weekends, get drunk, have a blast, and somehow manage to get through our classes in one piece. I’d go into more detail about the shenanigans we got into back in the day, but to be honest, that’s the sort of story that was best left to wedding receptions, not funerals.
And then there came that evening. You know the one I mean.
We went out, the whole lot of us, to a club. There was a karaoke machine. Well, we were all getting ourselves good and tipsy, and Charles suggested we all take turns singing. I can still remember his version of Helter Skelter. Charles, it brought down the house, even if it wasn’t an appropriate choice.
I got up there and belted out Northwest Passage. I’m not a singer by any means, but then again, nobody was sobbing and begging me to stop. Except maybe the ghost of Stan Rogers, but that’s another story entirely.
Finally up went Michael, onto the stage. He fiddled with the karaoke machine. The music started up. It was Sweet Caroline. And he started to sing.
I still remember the collective jaw drop from all of us. I mean, Michael might have been a zest for life happy kind of guy that people liked, but he was a horrible singer.
Imagine those lyrics, for those of you who never heard Michael sing. And if you never heard him sing, consider yourselves lucky. Sweet Caroline, good times never seemed so good. Let me assure you, hearing him screech that tune and mangle it to pieces... well, it wasn’t good times.
And here’s the thing. Michael never actually understood that he couldn’t sing.
That reminds me. Jessica, did you issue a no singing clause into your marriage early on? Because I can just imagine how irritating it would be to hear him singing Row Row Row Your Boat while in the shower.
Probably not the sort of time to be asking that sort of question. Anyway, Michael couldn’t sing. Anyone who’s ever heard him do so knows that. After all, he sang Amazing Grace at his mother’s funeral, and it had the mourners groaning and begging him to stop. Let me tell you, amazing grace isn’t such a sweet sound when it’s coming from a singing voice that sounds like someone’s strangling the cat.
Where was I? Oh yes, strangling the cat. Michael went through his life not knowing he was a bad singer. It didn’t matter how many times we’d tell him. He just wouldn’t believe it. He’d go ahead and sing. Sometimes it would be something older, like that time he got into the PA booth at the ball park and started massacring Take Me Out To The Ball Game. Other times it was more recent stuff. I understand Adele sent out a cease and desist letter for his Youtube recording of Melt My Heart To Stone. Even that American Idol twit William Hung, who couldn’t hold a note to save his life, wrote him a comment saying, “dude! You’re a horrible singer!”
Which brings us to the circumstances of his death. And that whole reason this is a closed casket sort of funeral.
Old Man Jebediah Gutherie, for those who might not have known, has had a reputation in these parts for being the resident crank, the grumpy old man yelling at kids to stay off his lawn. In the time that I’ve lived here, I came to the conclusion years ago that the man was off his proverbial rocker. Both the literal one on his front porch and the mental one in his head.
Turns out he proved me right.
Who knows what might have happened if things had been a bit different? For instance, say Old Man Gutherie had decided not to go down to the tavern that night? Or if Michael and Jessica had stayed home? We would not be here today mourning Michael.
Instead they all turned up at Duffy’s Tavern. For that one fateful night that we can’t take back.
I was there that night. I saw it happen. Maybe Michael shouldn’t have gone up to the piano. Maybe if he’d chosen to badly sing a different tune, the old man would have just yelled at him. Or maybe Old Man Gutherie was just going to snap anyway.
It turns out, from what the police and the psychologists have said in the days since that night, that Somewhere Over The Rainbow was a trigger of sorts for Old Man Gutherie. It seems that Gutherie hated it with a passion. I mean, more than most people hate it. For him, it brought back bad memories. It seems back in his days as a prison guard, the warden liked tormenting the inmates by piping in show tunes. That doesn’t seem very rehabilitative, if you ask me. Isn’t the point of prison to make the inmates less volatile and more able to return to society?
So Old Man Gutherie, who had to spend thirty five years walking the corridors at Stonehurst Prison, earning a paycheck, might have felt just as homicidal as some of those inmates.
And so that set him off. Michael was up there playing the piano and mangling the song, and Old Man Gutherie started yelling at the top of his lungs. Everyone who heard it couldn’t make out what he was saying. It was one loud, long, nonsensical screech. And then he charged at Michael.
Now you’d think that a thirty five year old guy in good shape would be able to take care of himself, when faced with a homicidal eighty seven year old man. But for whatever reason, Michael’s instincts were to run. Maybe he saw something truly dangerous in the old man’s eyes. But as it turns out, running was his mistake. His last mistake. His second last mistake being deciding to get up there and sing.
Old Man Gutherie chased Michael out into the night. Everyone left behind in the tavern just looked at each other. I mean, at first there was confusion, and relief that Michael wasn’t singing anymore. Then we started to think it might be a good idea to go stop Old Man Gutherie.
So there we all went, out into the night. We could hear Michael’s yelling in the distance off in the woods, saying he was sorry. We could hear Old Man Gutherie shouting. Some nonsensical stuff, and the occasional coarse word that I’m not going to repeat in a church sanctuary. And then there was this strange wail... and nothing. Just silence.
Well, of course we all called the cops. And of course they started looking. And of course they found Old Man Gutherie at his home... feeding what was left of Michael into his wood chipper.
And so here we are. Old Man Gutherie is locked up while the courts try to figure out what to do with him. Michael’s remains are in that coffin right over there. All the pieces of him they could collect from the scene. Along with some saw dust.
And we’re left without him. Our friend has shuffled off his mortal coil, so to speak. The world’s a less bright place without Michael in it, even if that means we don’t have to worry about hearing his yearly rendition of The Twelve Days Of Christmas.
By the way, Jessica, just out of curiosity... did the insurance company have a problem with death by wood chipper?”