by Thomas Smith

"I really hate to do this," Elmo said as he stuffed his jaw full of Beechnut chewing tobacco. He hitched his pants up a notch and leaned on the shovel. "Somehow it just don't seem right."

  Tillmer Faye Earwood, matriarch of the Earwood clan, held up a hand that hadn't seen soap or water for more than a few days. "Look Elmo, I didn't plan on having to do this any more than you did."  She ran a hand through her stringy gray hair. "But after all, this is for Percy. And Lord knows he don't hardly ever ask for much."  She pointed toward the seventeen year old boy standing off to the side.


He was a dead ringer for Ichabod Crane. He was a skinny series of odd angles, elbows, bony knees, size thirteen feet and ears that looked like two saucers glued to his head. Percy looked at his cousin from under his mop of red hair and grinned.


"I know," Elmo said, "but--"


"But nothing Elmo," Tillmer Faye said as she took a step toward him. "The discussion is over and the situation is what it is. Now are you gonna dance with that shovel, or dig with it."


Elmo swung the shovel over his shoulder. "Well I'll tell you," he said around the toothpick in his mouth. "If I was to dance with it I'd have a sight more to hang on to than Selma will when she grabs hold of old dry bones over there."  He motioned with his head and grinned.


Tillmer Faye shot him a look that could have boiled water.


Elmo dug.


Within an hour and a half the grave was open and the casket was laid parallel to the six by six hole. Percy stood in one spot the whole time, a brown parcel clamped to his chest. Tillmer Faye had told him to be careful not to let anything happen to the store-bought package, and it was always best to do what Tillmer Faye said.


"Lord God a'mighty," Elmo said as he wiped his face with an old bandanna. "Grandpa Earwood has gotten a might ripe over the last three weeks."  He blew his nose and put the bandana back in his pocket. "And he wasn't exactly the first rose of spring on his best day."


"Elmo," Tillmer Faye said, "you know Grandpa Earwood has always had bad B.O. But he's family, and when you're family, you just kinda overlook these things."


Percy stepped a little closer as Elmo levered the casket lid open. Grandpa's pent-up essence escaped the confines of his eternal resting place in full force. Percy sputtered. "Mama, grandpa was rank enough when he was alive what with him being partial to just takin’ a bath on Saturday and all, but now he plumb stinks."  He stepped back a step and coughed. "I mean golly Moses, I don't want to go to my first prom smellin' like I stepped in something."  He hung his head. 


"I wish old Selma Mudge hadn't asked me now."


Tillmer bent over the casket and started to work. "Well she did, and you're going."  She looked up. "You're the first Earwood to ever go to a fancy dance. So Elmo," she looked toward the big man leaning on his shovel, "help me get this tuxedo off grandpa. And Percy, unwrap them pajamas. Then we'll go home and hang this monkey suit out on the porch to air out until it’s time for you to get dressed."

Former Wear

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