The last one with the memory

My grandfather, Percy Taylor Coe, was born into a long lineage of Presbyterians, many of them ministers or missionaries. They were serious about their faith.

Evidence of this was the prayer said before each meal, prayers when one went to bed, service to the poor, giving 10% to the church, trying to love people you did not want to like much less love....One of my memories is riding home with them after church. My grandmother wanted ice cream, but was ashamed to stop at the store to buy it, as buying things on Sunday was not done. Meals for Sunday were to be prepared the day before. I don't know of anyone else with this memory of Presbyterians being so careful about keeping the Sabbath holy. When I once told the story, people looked at me like my ancestors had come from another planet, which, come to think of it, they might have done.

However, this memory is not the one I refer to when I talk about being the last person alive with a particular memory, a memory that will end with me, although my children, having heard the story, possibly will remember the story, not the act.

After my grandfather died, many came to his funeral to say their good byes. They all looked like Presbyterians, men in suits and ties and polished shoes, women in modest dresses and with hats and gloves-- church clothes. What was odd, however, was that at the end of the service, the minister said, we have one last request from Mr. Coe and that is to play his favorite song, The Bells of St. Mary's. "It is," the minister said, "odd that a strong Presbyterian would ask for this song to be played at his funeral. He loved the song and asked us to play it." And they did, leaving me to ponder this mystery for the rest of my life.

I am listening to the song now, sung by Vera Lynn. I am trying to figure out why he loved it so. It is a love song. Either it was about his love for my grandmother -- and we never had doubts that they loved each other even though she was an Eleanor Roosevelt type wife. However, my grandmother told me that when he died, he sat up in his hospital bed (he was dying of cancer), held out his arms, and called out the names of two people --a couple -- who had been friends of his in his youth. He had been skating with them on a pond in Baxter Springs, Kansas, before he and his brothers moved west. As they skated the ice broke and the young couple fell through the ice and drowned before they could be rescued. In dying he called out both their names. "The bells of St. Mary's ...I hear they are calling. The young love, the true love, who calls from the sea, and so my beloved when red leaves are falling, the love...." I always wondered if that song reminded him of his lost friends.