a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Dog Trip with No Dogs but Dog People

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dog Trip with No Dogs but Dog People

SUMMARY: John Nunes' funeral.
It was supposed to rain today. But, when I got up bright and early, they had taken the rain out of the forecast. Clouds still hovered and threatened occasionally, but for the most part it was a beautiful day. John must have friends in high places to turn the weather around for us.
I carpooled with two agility friends the hour and a half to Patterson out in the Central Valley. Many of the orchards (almonds, peaches, not sure what all is blooming at the moment) bloomed abundantly, looking almost like snowdrifts across acres and acres and even miles and miles of perfectly trimmed trees. This is mid-winter in California:

I think it's hard to write about funerals. You can't sum up a large life in an hour or two, although of course we have to try. Plus it seems more personal than, say, weddings. I didn't want to take photos of most things, feeling that it would be disrespectful or intrusive. But other things called out to be memorialized as part of my memories of John and I hoped that many of the people who couldn't attend could get a small piece of what we experienced through these very sparse photos.

The Catholic mass lasted a scant hour; didn't seem tedious to me, although I also don't know all the rituals and responses and songs that so many of the attendees knew, so it felt new. We arrived about 10 minutes before the service started, and the church  already overflowed with mourners. I sat just a few rows from the back and couldn't see most of what was happening up front, but I could hear just fine, and smell the incense.

I love bagpipes, and Stuart--spouse of another agility friend--turns out plays the bagpipes, so he piped John into and out of the church. Haunting and dramatic.

Don't know how many rows the church had, at least 20, with 16 people per row, plus a couple dozen standing because the pews simply had no more room. I guessed maybe 300 people. John was a well-known and well-liked man.

The program for the ceremony used a photo of John wearing dark blue jeans and a fine-lined blue and green plaid shirt. The gray-haired man in the pew directly in front of me wore blue pants of the same shade and a fine-lined blue and green plaid shirt. I kept wanting him to turn around and be John and prove that this was all a little mistake.

After the mass, we drove to the cemetery for a brief interment ceremony. Again, I didn't want to take personal or close-up photos, but I did want to show what a popular and honored man John was. Again, the crowd all around the ceremony was so dense that it was hard to see.

The cemetery itself touched me--just past Valentine's Day, heart balloons and red and white flowers festooned many of the graves of the recently departed.

Couldn't keep dry eyes through many parts of the day, but I nearly lost it when I saw his two spaniels there at graveside.  I think it's because dogs just don't understand, and I imagine their confusion in waiting for Human Dad to come home. Fortunately these two are accustomed to spending time with other people and will settle in happily at their new agility home(s). Everyone fawned over them and they loved the attention.

Leaving the cemetery, we drove back into town to the Masonic Hall for a generous meal. We were certain that they'd run out of food, but no, they were able to feed everyone plentifully--someone said, "It's because they knew John [and therefore the huge masses of people that were likely to appear]"--although there weren't enough seats for for quite the entire tremendous crowd. We had potatoes, green salad, tri-tip, beans, fruit salad, and desserts while chatting both with people we already knew and people we met with a common experience of having had John in our lives. While dining, the wonderful slide show of John's life (mostly his dog agility life) played and replayed on the wall at the end of the hall so we could remember him all over again. Thanks, Toni, for doing that. Agility people have so many talents.

The church didn't allow flowers at this time because it it is Lent, so I was told, so huge displays of flowers surrounded and covered the coffin at the cemetery, lined the walkway into the Masonic Hall, and surrounded the table covered with photos and mementos of John, including the Caninetarian of the Year award presented to him by the Bay Team two years ago.

I sat at a table with a gentleman who had grown up with John and who shared some stories from their youth. All of them, still living in or near the same small town where they were born. Many agility folks made the trip in, like us, many from around the Bay Area and coast with an hour and a half to 2 hours drive out there. Hard to say how many agility friends attended, there was such a crowd and we could easily get lost in it. I'd guess 30 or more people I recognized and their significant others, and more who also  were involved in agility whom I didn't know before. And everyone wearing black, something most of us would never dare to attempt in our normal lives due to, yes, dog hair.

Midafternoon, we headed home again. The fresh winter-spring green of the hillsides glowed an amazing green as the sun touched it from behind the clouds, a nearly unbelievable green. Couldn't have had a more beautiful setting surrounding us to remember our last time with John. But--we felt a bit like we were staring out at the default background for Windows XP.
So--is it live, or is it Windows X(p)?


  1. I never met John, but here I am across the country crying for him. And especially for the two dogs...though I know they will be fine, it will never be the same for any of you.

    But I have to say California in midwinter is amazingly beautiful!

  2. Thanks so much for posting this, Ellen. I couldn't make it to John's funeral so it was very nice to see some of it. He was a really wonderful person and will be sorely missed by us all.

  3. Ellen, what a wonderful tribute to John and rendition of a very sad, but clearly loving day, you have captured. Thank you...and only you and John know if it was Windows XP.


  4. Thanks for posting this, Ellen. I attended the Rosary for John on Friday. I have had too many funerals in my life recently to be able to attend Saturday with any kind of decorum, so it was really nice to read your rendition. He will be sorely missed, and always fondly remembered - our "patron saint" of agility in Turlock!

  5. I think that I'm likely to see more funerals as time goes on, not fewer, and I'm not looking forward to that.