There I was..drivin’ in a drivin’ rain while the radio was dragging it’s teeth amid rattle bound chatter….when what to my wondering eyes did appear…in the distance, several cars with four-way flashers on slowly proceeding the slow lane of I-95 southbound.
It was a Saturday and the procession was of the funeral nature…only seven or eight cars following a spanking new black and gray hearse. One last rain soaked ride for the dearly departed.
As I edged ahead in this driving rain, I noticed the Pennsylvania vanity tag…”BURG F H”…Hmmm…my roommate at Gettysburg College in the fall of 1957 was Earl Burg, whose dad owned a funeral home in Red Lion. It had to be the same, I reckoned.
He was only my roommate for one semester. He used pancake makeup for zits and often did ‘one-arm pushups’…very wiry and very strong…lean and mean. I had never been away from home, nor ever met a chap like Earl…He loved the lyrics of a tune at that time…” my friends call me Speedo, but my real name is Mr. Earl….”
Could this be one in the same…maybe his kids were in the business now…the hearse driver was a young man…very clean hearse, albeit soaked…so I edged along up the line of the sad procession.
When what to my wondering eyes did appear, at the wheel of the point vehicle…a new silver Cadillac Escalade SUV…a familiar face, glued to the highway, intent on getting this caravan to the repository of the departed…yep, sure enough it was Earl Burg hisself. My grandfather, Stockton Whiteside Holden, a Delta mortician, flashed in my head.
Closing in, wipers flailing, hardly visible ahead, and not wanting to distract the noble Earl from his assigned duties…let alone put the window down and yell to get his attention…there was nothing could be done to get his attention, save swerving at him and that was out of the question in this torrent on a dangerous road approaching Baltimore.
What a sight for these sore eyes…47 years ago and he looked the same, basically, must be the Max Factor. Had he seen me trying to get his attention he may have panicked…this white-bearded crazy nuzzling close in another SUV.
Imagine the odds of running into some past acquaintance like this? It was the same odds as Smarty Pants winning the Triple Crown at Belmont. Earl had a wet track that day too…carting a casket along wet, slippery slopes in some cemetery…it was a lot to do for any 64 year old and although I wanted to make contact, the reality of it all was, alas that I couldn’t.
With all this there was no one to tell it to…anybody who would remember those days at Gettysburg were gone on my end. I had no one to yell and scream to, or call on my cell to tell of this grand coincidence. So here I was, seeing someone after all these years and stuck in the car, in the rain, advancing in the ‘next to slowest lane’…
The halogen headlights of his Caddy now getting smaller with distance and rain in the rear view mirror.
On this soggy road I recalled meeting his dad once…and like my dad, he wanted his son to get an education. And we did. And the two of us are still on the right side of the dirt….and that’s fair…and good. His passenger was in good hands on this final ride. A surreal procession, bringing good feelings of the past into focus.
Earl didn’t see me. But it was him and I didn’t need to know anymore…keeping it to myself till now.