“Pardon?” Father asked. “How long was I in the army? I was in the army from 1984 till 1987, not quite four years.”
Jake asked, “And then you became a priest?”
“Oh my goodness. Well, not right away. I was Army ROTC but I had a change of heart and went navy in eighty-seven. I was ordained a Lutheran minister in 1992 and was a Navy Chaplin until ninety-nine; so the short answer is four years but it’s pretty misleading.”
“Wait,” Jake exclaimed, grabbing Chris’ arm, “you were both an army and naval officer? For real?”
“For real. And you want to hear something else? I was brought up Catholic and was planning to become a Catholic priest but had a change of heart there as well. Took me a while to figure out where I was going, but I’m glad I wound up where I did.
“We’d better hurry,” he continued, “don’t want the guests arriving before the receiving line is set up.”
In the vestibule area that connected the chapel and all-purpose room the three memorial posters had been arranged around the low, cloth covered table that held the guest sign-in book. In addition to the guestbook, Amber’s McConnell picture perfect poster and a few small, potted ferns sat on the table. The Hagans brothers’ poster was on the side of the receiving line that stood closest to the church entrance while the Knopick’s was on the far end.
“Looks like they got that figured out,” Jake said in passing.
“Thank goodness,” John replied as they followed Father Cusick into the all-purpose room.
The all-purpose room had changed significantly in the few minutes that the three men had spent in the chapel. There was a high, narrow, draped table against one wall that held the three McConnell children’s art work, along with potted plants, a dish of mixed nuts, a metal scoop and tiny paper cups.
The most significant change was that made by the additional Hagans off-spring, significant others and descendants. Four-year-old Gersemi sat on the floor, huddled around a computer tablet with younger brother Breas while Sean held little Danann in his arms. Next to the three McConnells, Payton and Ashley formed a loose huddle that included Deb, Dave and along with Dan, Jacob and Bilhah’s son.
“Well,” Father said, “it looks like everyone is here. Jake, would you be so kind as to re-introduce me to everyone? That way I won’t have to fumble with names.”
“Oh, sure, Father. Come on, I’ll start you with my son Dan.”
“Hey, buddy, how you doing?” Jake asked Dan. “This is Father Christian Cusick. Before everything started getting wonky in here I wanted to introduce everybody. Father Chris, this is my son Dan,” Dan extended his hand and he and Chris shook.
“Dan. Nice to meet you. Good grip,” Chris said, smiling at Jake. “You must be that Eagle Scout that MS Lottie was always bragging about.”
Dan visibly blushed. “Yes, sir. Nice to meet you, too.”
“This is Deb and Dave; John’s folks.”
“Ah, yes. We met earlier. Deb, Dave,” Father said with a nod.
“My younger brother, Payton and his wife Ashley.” They all shook hands.
“And Sean,” Jake continued, “little sister Amber’s husband.” Sean shifted Danann to his left shoulder and smilingly extended his hand.
“Sean and Amber,” Chris said, shaking hands yet again. “You live here in the city, right?”
“That’s right,” Sean said, “About twelve miles north of here, up in Beverly. We met when Amber’s father, Lou, died.”
“Yes, I thought that was right. You’ve multiplied since then, haven’t you? That’s quite a bundle you have in your arms. I assume the two children at your feet belong to you?”
“Yeah, we sure have,” he said with a nod and a grin. “This little girl is Tuatha De Danann, better known as Danann, the little blondie over there is Gersemi, and my son is Breas.”
“Interesting names. Gaelic?”
“Yes indeed; every one.”
“Hey, Dan,” John said approaching his nephew with arms wide, “great to see you. Congratulations on making Eagle, buddy! Sorry I missed the ceremony.”
Dan’s face broke into a huge grin as he walked into his uncle’s embrace. “Uncle John! Wow! Great to see you again. Yeah. Eagle. Pretty cool. I got your card. Thanks!”
“No problem,” John replied. “I really wish I could have been there. Eagled up as a freshman, huh? I barely made the age cut-off! I was a senior.”
“Yeah, well, you know Mom. She kept at me. Hey! Nice suit! Where did you get that?!”
“You like it? It was in Grandma’s closet. I figure it’s literally a hundred years old.”
“For real? Cool.”
Amber walked over to the group and Jake introduced her to Father Cusick as well. Sean said, “Hey, honey. What do you think of that old suit now? John looks mighty sharp doesn’t he?”
Amber looked at Sean, nostrils flared, then at John. “Well,” she said, “at least it’s a suit. I think the mourners are beginning to arrive. We should form a receiving line.”
Father Cusick said, “Yes, indeed. I’ll go mingle a bit and then slip into vestments. God bless, everyone. I’ll see you in the chapel.
“Oh! And, Jake?” he added. “You’re reading the eulogy; correct?”
“Uh. Yeah,” he replied. “Yes, I am.”
“Fine, fine. Do you want me to put it on the lectern or do you want to hang on to it?”
“It’s already up there, Father,” John said.
“Oh. Okay. Then we’re all set. Nice to meet you, everyone.”