Uncle Bobby’s Funeral
Mary Louisa Cappelli, February 7, 2024
Nobody wanted to go to Uncle Bobby’s funeral. David bribed his family with first-class tickets from LAX to Panama City and a Mercedes Convertible rental car for the 47-mile drive to Chipley. Even then, they complained. Mary Ruth, his sweetheart from Harvard and wife of twenty years, thought a lovely card and some flowers should have been sufficient.
“It’s not like you were close. You only mentioned Uncle Bobby once or twice. Why is that?” she asked.
Mary Ruth knew perfectly well that David had major issues about his past and upbringing. She also knew that he didn’t like talking about it. Maybe this is what attracted her to him in the first place. She was born and raised in Palo Alto and couldn’t wait to get back after graduating. Boston was too dirty, too dusty, and too noisy. To her, David was the provincial Florida Man with a mysterious past, and it was the mystery that intrigued her.
“Mom’s right, Dad. Why are we visiting a dead stranger?” 15-year-old Alex asked, adjusting his ear pods.
“It’s his dad’s bro, idiot!” Michael snapped. “It’s what families do. Right, dad?
“Like you know anything about families, doofus. When’s the last time you’ve been home for dinner, or has anybody been home for dinner, for that matter?
“Enough,” said Mary Ruth. “We lead busy lives. That’s a good thing. And isn’t it nice that we are all together? With Michael attending Harvard in the Fall, this might be our last family trip.”
“Great memories, mom. Burying an unknown corpse.”
“Sorry, Can’t wait to meet your family, Dad.”
David was lost in thought. He hadn’t thought of Chipley, Florida, since he left there 43 years ago. Not once did he look back at his hometown, which was recently lauded for being America’s most redneck travel destination. Moonshiners, racists, and backroads were not for him back then or now.
He was orphaned at seven, and his Uncle Bobby was too busy with his hundreds of alligators to have a young boy around. If it weren’t for Mrs. Fuller, his third-grade teacher who raised him after his parents died in a horrible crash on Ollie Road, he’d still be drinking beers and four-wheeling at Swamp Off-Road Park. Marcia Fuller taught him and guided him how not to grow into a chainsaw-carrying, alligator wrestling yokel. When Marcia died of pancreatic cancer in his senior year, she made him promise to go to college and get out of Chipley. Every step of David’s life has been a conscious choice to distance himself from the Redneck Riviera forever.
After Harvard, he went straight onto Stanford Law and immediately landed a job as an environmental lawyer at Bakers Botts LLP, a leading global law firm in Palo Alto. He married his college sweetheart, bought a house in Midtown next to Mary Ruth’s parents, had two children, joined the country club, and played golf on the weekends. David Godwin was not a redneck and made a life for himself to prove it.
He wanted nothing of his past, and if Uncle Bobby’s estate lawyer hadn’t told him that he had to come since he was the sole-surviving relative, well… he would have just stayed and played a round of golf with his partners at the firm and then head on up to the clubhouse for brunch with the wives. It was a comfortable life. The thought of having to show his wife and sons Chipley, Florida, population 3,525 minus one, made him nervous.
Mimosas, movies, and video games made the flight bearable. Since the boys were troopers, David allowed each of them two mimosas. They landed a little tipsy, got into their convertible rental car, and headed out to Chipley without a hitch. They even sang along to King Von’s “What it Means to be King.” It felt like a real family getaway. Just what they needed.
“Look!” Alex pointed. “Alligator Capital of the World.”
“We’re almost there,” Mary Ruth said, straightening out her pink Polo dress.
“Are you sure we’re dressed okay?”
“Trust me. We’ll be the best dressed there.”
David’s heart started beating faster, checking his Apple Watch to see if he had just imagined things. No. His heart rate was now up to 76, 16 beats above normal.
“I think this is the main street,” Mary Ruth said as David drove by a Burger King and Stuckeys.
“I guess that’s that.”
“Baptisms every day at 3 p.m. Every sinner welcomed,” Michael read from a flashing billboard on Grace Assembly.
“Rebel Pistol 8” Barrel. $289. Can we buy a gun, Dad?” Alex asked.
David’s heart rate was now up to 81. He adjusted the Lacoste strap. He was embarrassed. Embarrassed and humiliated that he came from this hillbilly-born again Trump-supporting shit-hole.
“I think you missed the turn-off,” said Mary Ruth. “It was back there. Needed to make a left.”
David swerved the car around, making a sharp U-Turn, and sped down the bumpy dirt road until pulling into the jaws of a 15-foot faded turquoise alligator sculpture.
“Cool,” Alex said.
“Are you going to have to give a eulogy?” Michael asked.
“Oh my God,” Mary Ruth sighed.
The boys dressed in green and yellow polo shirts jumped out of the car. David, wearing a pink polo a few shades lighter than Mary Ruth’s, got out last.
“You must all be the Godmans,” said a tooth-gapped blond-haired woman dressed in a proper black satin mourning dress. “I’m Janice Overland. Call me Janie.”
The family smiled and nodded, speechless for the first time since they left Palo Alto.
“Follow me. The ceremony is out on the Gator Platform. There’s already about 200 people. Bobby was well-liked here.”
“This way,” Janie said as the Godmans trailed Janie through the arrowleaf and cattails.
Alligators peeped out of the murky green slime to look at the strangers. Mary Ruth thought it would be cute to all dress in Lacoste clothing with green alligator emblems for the funeral. She tried to cover hers up with a sweater.
They crossed the swamp on a shaky wooden slat bridge where mourners dressed in black were waiting by an open casket of a black-haired man dressed in khaki pants, a blue denim shirt, and a gator-embossed leather vest.
“That him?” Alex nudged his dad.
“What do you think, idiot?” Michael snapped.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Mary Ruth said.
The platform had just enough room to fit the crowd. Janie squeezed four folding chairs cordoned off with yellow and black police tape for the Godmans.
“You all can speak first, and then we’ll do whoever wants to can have a turn. Sound good?”
Mary Ruth shot David an over-my-dead-body look.
“What you gonna say, Dad?” Alex asked.
“Shut up!” David said, the mimosas having worn off.
David was in shock. The smothering heat made the alligator appear as if it was going to lunge from the sweaty swamp of his drenched shirt. He stood up and muttered a few other words before realizing he had nothing to say.
“Uncle Bobby was my father’s brother. May he rest in peace.”
“Good, Dad. Short and sweet,” said Alex, grabbing his hand as mourners waited their turn by the casket.
Twenty-three people spoke after David, offering an overview of Uncle Bobby’s life and favorite memories about him.
“Alligators gotta mean temperament. Bobby was meaner. God Bless em.”
“Bobby was a visionary. He knew he could get up to $6 per pound for his meat. His hides went for about $25 per linear foot. He knew that fancy people in NY would pay $350 for a wallet, $2,000 plus for shoes, and $1,000 some for a purse.”
“Ducky, we’re so glad to see you and your family.”
“Who’s Ducky?” Alex asked.
“Alligators may sometimes bite the hand that feeds them, but Bobby kept seven of his fingers. That’s how good he was. I’m sure Ducky will keep at least two.”
“The comparative prices of beef and alligator lured Bobby into the business. Hell, raising gators sure beats cattle ranching, prices being what they are.”
“Uncle Bobby’s loaded,” Alex whispered.
After a good hour or so, there was not much left to say.
“I guess it’s time. Will you do the honors, Ducky… uh… David? Your sons might want to help.” Janie asked.
“Uh…” David stumbled, feeling like the Emperor with new Clothes. “We might need a few more hands to lift the casket.”
“You can leave the casket here. We’ll take care of that after.”
“Oh, nobody told you. Rather than being buried or cremated, Bobby wanted his body fed to the alligators. He wanted to survive in their cells.
“I… I don’t know.”
“If you don’t think you can….”
“Okay… Okay…Michael, Alex, give me a hand.”
“David!” Mary Ruth said.
“Don’t just stand there. Give me a hand! Now!”
Michael and Alex stepped into line and helped David lift Uncle Bobby from the coffin. Mary Ruth pitched in and struggled to lift the torso. Together, they wrestled Bobby onto the railing, where he balanced for a few seconds. Mary Ruth brushed off some of Bobby’s black hair dye that smudged her polo dress, spreading the stain all over her front side.
Janie gave them the go-ahead, and before they had a chance to realize what they were doing, the Godmans shoved Uncle Bobby into the swamp.
Mourners rushed the railing to watch the macabre dismemberment of Uncle Bobby.
“Wow! That was fast!” Alex squealed.
The Godmans collapsed onto their folding chairs, and the crowd offered their condolences before departing to the all-you-can-eat alligator banquet up at the pavilion.
“I guess this is all yours, huh, Dad?” Michael asked.
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