After a little break my Friday in Focus posts are back!!!! Whoop Whoop! So today we are kicking off the return with a spotlight on Sandy Day’s book Fred’s Funeral.Fred's Funeral by Sandy Day
on 2nd December 2017
Genres: Fiction, War
Fred’s Funeral is set in 1986, Ontario, Canada. Fred Sadler, a WWI veteran, has just died of old age and his dismayed ghost now discovers that the arrangement of his funeral has fallen to his prudish sister-in-law, Viola. As Viola dominates the remembrance of Fred, he agonizes over his inability to set the record straight. Was Fred Sadler really suffering from shell shock? Why was he locked up most of his life in the Whitby Hospital for the Insane? Could his family not have done more for him? Fred’s memories of his life as a child, his family’s hotel, the War, and the mental hospital, clash with Viola’s version of events as Fred’s family gathers one rainy October night to pay their respects.
“I wish the service didn’t have to be at night,” Viola whispers. The funeral home, experiencing a post-Thanksgiving rush, had squeezed Fred in at the end of the day. Now Viola had no choice but to sleep overnight in the spare room at John’s house, on an overly soft mattress and wait until morning for John to drive her home to Jackson’s Point.
“Shh, Mom. Just listen.” John squeezes Viola’s gloved hand. She purses her lips and looks forward at the minister. She wasn’t too fond of him when they met earlier in the day. And his questions about Fred had stirred up many memories. More and more were coming to the surface. Viola had met Fred as a child at the Uxbridge home of their mutual cousin, Gertrude, long before the war. Fred’s grandmother and Viola’s great aunt were sisters – or something like that. But until after the war, when Viola and Thomas were courting and they were reintroduced, she hadn’t seen Fred in years. Cousin Gertrude, ever the busy body, told everyone, when Fred quit the university, that his parents were beside themselves with worry. “Fred always was an odds bodkin,” Gertrude told Viola. “One night, before he went overseas, he came over to Aunt Mina’s, where I was boarding, to say goodbye. Pauline was home that evening. Fred was in uniform; I suppose he was trying to impress us. ‘Good heavens, we’re your cousins!’ I had to remind him when he fell to his knees and clasped our hands. I sensed a marriage proposal in the air so I headed the fool off before he could make a bigger nitwit of himself.”
Viola adjusts her fur hat, now maybe it’s becoming too warm in here.
“For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
Fred Sadler dashes around the perimeter of the cramped room from shadowed pillar to curtained window, unable to fully believe that the living cannot see him. Instead, what they see is his pallid profile sticking up out of the casket like a deserted island at the head of the dim chapel. Fred Sadler barely recognizes his relatives – most he hasn’t seen in years, and even then, it was only on holidays at Thomas and Viola’s house a few times a year. He finds himself spellbound by the younger adults, like Dawn, the offspring of his nephew and nieces. Their youthful expressions of boredom and insouciance fascinate him. He senses their callow arrogance, their belief that nothing as mundane as death will ever cross their paths.
Fred once brandished a similar conceit. Inside his handsome and crisp khaki uniform, he’d been chomping at the bit to get to Europe and fight those nasty Germans. Even when he did finally get over there, to the training camp in Ripon, he couldn’t wait for his draft to be called up, and to get into the action. Fred thought that he, single-handedly, would alter the direction of the war and he was eager to get to the front before the whole damn thing was over.
For years, Fred Sadler has not allowed himself to think about the war. Of course, a miserable part of his mind never let him forget it. Almost nightly, his mind had churned up nightmares in which he was lost and disoriented on no man’s land, sinking in mud, screaming for help, soundlessly, wordlessly, impotent with fear, flailing and suffocating, his horse thrashing and lame, or at least he’d dreamt such things before he’d died.