29 June 2008

In the midst of death

I go to more funerals these days than I used to and I read this right around the time that I went to my friend Judie's recently.

In Arto's was the funeral party this time, but before we could begin first Zachara and Besso who wasn't speaking together almost three years must settle their quarrel and even I had to be friends again to Cucule and both we forget what happened, all for Uncle John's remembry. Is good this, even if an old-time way. It lets a man be sure he will finish from the grave, at least, what he has a duty to work for through his whole life -- bring peace among his friends.

So twenty men we sat down around the table to drink toasts for Dzea Vanno* and eat for him shilah p'lavi, the Meal For the Day of Death. Rice, it is, with enough pieces of fatted young lamb in and salt and black, black pepper, and onions, and thyme all cooked together until it turns velvet smooth. Hot and rich. Special good for people that is cold from new-turned ground, empty with looking at open graves.

But we didn't fill the glasses only for Uncle John this day. We remembered other men, too, that left our table. Davit and how every year he went to such troubles and strunged nuts on strings for dipping in thickened grape juice -- all to make chuchkella so little kids born here would know what candy tasted like at home.

A toast for Papa, too, who hunted thirty years to find somebody could speak our language and never thought his time was wasted.

Yes, and Nick, and Vasso, and Petri, many others, we remembered them, every one.

And somehow the table did what all the words couldn't -- gave us back ourselves and made us a promise that so long as one of our friends sits down to take pleasure in food and company and wine so long, too, we shall never be forgotten. More than that no man can want.

And so like everything in this world must, it came to an end our party, and Eliko rose for the last toast. To Dzea Vanno.

"I drink this little glass," he said, "for man who had the good sense don't leave us no fortune to fight over. He leaved us instead his responsibilities and his pleasures, too, with a good example how to enjoy them. Still lots and lots left to do in this world yet. So priest gonna excuse me, I'm sure if a little I change the Bible words he reads on the cemetery and say different way. In the midst of death still are in a life. Amen.


From Anything Can Happen by George & Helen Papashvily

*Uncle John

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