A wild-sounding pack of kids swarmed through the church basement, even getting between Gladys Argue and the dainties table.
“Cut that out!” Dale Hanson called in the direction of the herd. “You kids take this circus outside.”
At least five small hands made one last grab for the brownie tray as the pack ran for the door.
“Don’t leave the church grounds,” Dale yelled after them.
“Thanks Dale,” said Dale’s daughter-in-law Elaine, who had snuck up behind him on her way to refill her coffee cup. “I wanted to do that, but only two of those kids are mine.”
“That’s where your generation is going wrong,” Dale said. “We never worried about yelling at other peoples’ kids. These ones are all related to me anyways. I have yelling rights.”
Elaine smiled. Most of the kids were Hanson cousins from Yorkton and close to the same age as Elaine’s children, nine-year-old Connor and six-year-old Jenny. They weren’t bad kids, but they were excited to see each other and thrown off balance by the novelty of skipping school on a Wednesday.
“I thought Connor and Jenny might be more upset to lose their great-grandfather,” Dale said.
“They are,” Elaine said. “But this is all new for them. It’s their first funeral.”
“Won’t be the last,” Elaine’s husband Jeff said, coming to join his wife. “I’m guessing the average age in here is at least 75.”
“Now that I’ve thrown the kids out, it’s got to be 80,” Dale agreed.
“How much longer do you think this’ll go on?” Jeff asked his father. “I’d like to get home.”
Of course the Hansons had shut down harvest for the day for Ed’s funeral, though Dale and Jeff had privately acknowledged Ed probably wouldn’t have wanted them to, not this year. Even with the dry summer weather, the crops had matured late. Then early fall rains kept their combines out of the field so often that they only managed to put in four full days of combining by the end of September.
“At this pace you’ll be eating Christmas dinner in the combine cab,” Ed Hanson had said the week before he died. Dale and Jeff worried Ed might be right, one last time.
The day of the funeral was a perfect harvest day, and every weather app they checked showed three or four more days of rain looming in the forecast.
“We’ll get out of here soon,” Dale said, nodding toward the sandwich table. “Walton Dick just grabbed the last egg salad sandwich, and Gladys Argue has already hugged everybody who’ll let her.”
“Aunt Margaret is having fun,” Elaine said, and the three looked across the room where a man in a frayed sport coat was waving his arms and telling a story for Dale’s sister from Ontario.
“I hope Frank’s not talking about the election,” Dale said. “Margaret won’t agree with him in that department. I’d better go say hello to the guys Dad coffee’d with. Looks like they’re nearly ready to leave.”
Jeff and Elaine soon found themselves in the middle of a group of women from the card-playing club at the seniors centre, long-ago friends of Jeff’s grandmother.
“Your husband’s grandfather was always such a gentlemen,” said the one with a hat, leaning in to hug Elaine.
“You gave such a lovely eulogy for your grandfather,” said the one with a bright red jacket as she clutched Jeff’s hand with frail, trembling fingers.
After the card players said their goodbyes and left, there were Ed’s farming friends, mostly men, and then the camping friends of Dale’s wife Donna.
“I wish I’d brought hand sanitizer,” Elaine said to Jeff when the last group of mourners was headed for the door.
“I need to sanitize my whole head,” Jeff said. “Three of those women kissed me!”
Then Dale came back. “The Yorkton cousins are ready to leave, so they called the kids back in. But Connor’s not with them.”
“What?” Elaine asked.
“He’s here somewhere. Just wanted to make sure you two don’t try to leave without him.”
Elaine found her daughter with the group of cousins. “Jenny,” she said, walking over to the kids and raising her voice. “Where’s your brother?”
Jenny shrugged. “He was with us a while ago,” she said. “We played tag.”
“I’ll look outside,” Jeff said, snatching the last brownie from the tray as he went out the door.
Jeff was still wandering the mostly empty church parking lot calling Connor’s name when Elaine, Jenny and Dale came out.
“Your mother and Margaret are helping the ladies clean out the coffee urn. They said they’ll take Donna’s car home later, but we can go back to the farm now,” Dale said. “Did you find Connor?”
“Not yet,” Jeff said. He hadn’t been worried before. It was the middle of the afternoon in a small town. But now he was wondering if something was wrong.
Elaine started shouting for her son.
Dale took a walk around the church, calling Connor’s name. On the other side of the building he spied Connor’s small body wedged into a corner at the front of the church between the porch and the wall.
Connor was sitting on the ground, knees pulled up to his chest and head in his hands. His shoulders were shaking with silent sobs. Connor hadn’t bothered to put on his jacket, and his arms were covered in goosebumps in the fall breeze. When Connor looked up, Dale saw his face was red from crying.
Dale took a seat on the ground next to his grandson and sat quietly, trying to think of something helpful to say.
“We’re all going to miss your great-grandfather,” he tried.
“I was sad when the orange kitten died,” Connor said. “But this is way worse.”
“I see what you mean,” Dale said.
“Are we going to leave him in that vase?”
Dale thought for a second. “You mean the urn. We’re going to take it back to the farm and scatter Grandpa Ed’s ashes in his fields. All the family together.”
“So it’ll be like he’s always there?” Connor asked.
“That’s the idea,” Dale said.
“Why didn’t we do that with the orange kitten?”
Dale tried to remember what Jeff had done with the kitten, after he’d hit it with the truck.
“Cats usually get buried,” Dale said. He had no idea if there was any place that cremated cats, but if there was, he knew he wouldn’t want to pay for it.
Luckily for Dale, Connor nodded, as if that made perfect sense.
“You’ll be next,” Connor said. “Because you’re old.”
Dale nodded. “I suppose.”
“Or maybe Aunt Margaret,” Connor added.
“Maybe,” Dale said, smiling just a little.
Elaine and Jeff came around the corner. Elaine was panicked, and sighed with relief when she finally saw her son. “Dale! Why didn’t you shout when you found him?” she demanded.
“Sorry,” Dale said. “We just needed a couple of minutes.”
“After I die, I want my ashes left in the hockey rink,” Connor said as the family walked toward the SUV.
“Good plan,” Dale said, as he got into the back of Jeff and Elaine’s SUV, on his way home to work on one more harvest.