momWHATareyoudoing Funeral Festivus 2k14: The Southern Louisiana Excursion

Dispatches from Overeating and Oversharing

Well, I wasn’t planning on a momWHATareyoudoing Special Edition so soon, but it seems that the best-laid plans may be put asunder by the almighty. Or, much more likely, US Airways customer service representative “Hank”.



“You think you have a dead-end job? I have a masters in mathematics.”

My mom’s dearest father and my grandfather, Papaw Burns, has moved on to that great tennis court in the sky, and so I travelled down to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to pay my respects. My Mamaw had already passed in 2003, so this was the last chance I was going to get to pay homage to some killer Burns history.

Here’s a couple of fun facts about the man of the hour.

1) He was a part of the Baton Rouge integration movement. “Wait, you mean, like integrative technologies?” No, you Silicon Valley Google employee slash app enthusiast…racial integration! Desegregation. In LOUISIANA. And I don’t mean he brought cookies to the protests. Heavy shit. My mom said she was afraid she’d wake up to a burning cross on the front yard. But she gets anxious, so she was probably making too big of a deal out of it, right? Oh she was in the deep south, soo…nope I guess not.

2) He played tennis. A LOT. He also lived to be 94. Coincidence? I think not.

3) A self-proclaimed “Justice Nut” he was also pretty big on LGBT rights. Nice, Papaw.

4) He was a World War II veteran. Now, before you start imagining Saving Private Ryan, let’s take just a liiiitle step back. He was a meteorologist, so the amount of full on “action” that he saw, per se, wasn’t exactly bang bang shoot ‘em up, though I doubt very much that he ever had a problem with that. He was stationed in Southern England and made weather forecasts for air raid strikes. Though he later pursued forestery over meterology because, and I quote “I hate to be wrong, and weathermen are wrong half the time.” Good point, Papaw, good point.

5) He was the head of the Forestry Department at LSU. He was also, apparently, the “Grandfather of the Christmas tree” in Louisiana. Meaning he helped foster the Christmas tree industry in Louisiana because he helped find a suitable tree for growing and harvesting. So I’m assuming everyone called him Papaw all the time.

6) He loved stupid, corny jokes. I know a man with a wooden leg named smith. Well, what’s the name of his other leg?–that kind of stuff.


Choice moments from the excursion: 

I drive down with my wife and my sister eleven hours (or twelve, who’s counting?) on Wednesday. Once we’re about 58 minutes out of town, we get approximately 30 texts from my mom asking about our arrival time. Important clarifying questions like “You all still on the road?”, or “Mary Michael made chicken enchiladas, do you want any?” “What’s your ETA?” or “Do you want salad with your chicken enchiladas?”. My wife is driving, and I’m supplying the Usher/Spice Girls to power us through the last push, so my sister is nominated full-time texter. Despite her millennial prowess, its still a thumb-tastic effort to keep up. We arrive, stuff our faces, eat some Trifle cake, and collapse. Phase one of overeating.

Getting to watch my mom with two her sisters. It’s nice to know that love and impatience serves the test of time.

Listening to some awesome guy we were staying with talk about how he didn’t think a “white chili” consisting of chicken and white kidney beans wasn’t really a chili. His main point is that the chili doesn’t have any chili powder in it. Therefore, a soup… I’m inclined to agree.

Getting to speak at my Papaw’s funeral and making people laugh AND cry. Oh, the power…

Po Boys!

Listening to people telling me stories that I had never heard about my Papaw. Also, he made a big point of being called Paul Y. Burns and not just Paul Burns because there was another Paul Burns in Baton Rouge. So all his life, he was Paul Y. Burns—to everybody. I had people come up to me at the funeral reception who said “I’ve always wanted to know…what did the ‘Y’ stand for?” Yep. These people had waited approximately 94 years to ask what his middle name was. It’s Yoder, people.

Driving my Papaw’s car back to North Carolina. He owned Camry’s all his goddamned life, but once he got old, he bought a BUICK. Yes, not only does the grim reaper come for us all in the end, but American cars will come for us one day too. Some of us earlier than others. I will say, though, now that I’m driving it around that shit is a smoooooth ride. It’s like sailing away on an ocean of interstate dreams.

It was definitely the funnest funeral I have ever attended. That sounds weird. It was the most positive funeral I ever—no. It was fun. I had a great time. Its so cool to get to celebrate someone who has lived a full life. We all should be so lucky. The only thing I would have changed is that Papaw could be there. AND DON’T YOU get all “he was there in spirit”. No. What I wish is that my funny, stuffy, occasionally cranky Papaw was there with a Miller Lite and/or tennis racket in hand to see all the hullaballoo.

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