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Fischer, Joan (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 51, Number 3 (Summer 2005)

Nesaule, Agate
Randa's umbrella,   pp. 42-47

Page 43

don't let her keep it, you naughty boy! 
You have to give it to her to prove you're 
no longer in love with your dead wife. 
Everyone says you are because you visit 
her every Saturday at Forest Park 
Cemetery in Indianapolis. You speak to 
your daughters and grandson on the 
phone too, even though you're married 
to me. No one has ever heard of such 
blind devotion to a dead spouse, and 
everyone is talking about it." 
I want to feel triumph at seeing my old 
enemy brought low. For thirteen years I 
vowed I'd wear my red silk dress embla- 
zoned with enormous blue morning glo- 
ries to her funeral. I'd bring a case of 
champagne to celebrate. I'd dance on her 
grave, in plain sight of the elderly 
Latvians conventionally dressed in black. 
But here I am, in a soft beige suit, a 
long silk scarf with birds of paradise 
under my green raincoat, my large oval 
amber earrings partially hidden by my 
hair. Ancient Latvians believed that 
amber could guard against illness and 
heal wounds, so the earrings should pro- 
tect me from Randa as effectively as 
garlic from vampires. I look respectable, 
but it's obvious I'm not in mourning. 
Instead of polite silence or discreet 
wiping of tears I hear squirming and 
whispering behind me. Juris and Lita, 
Randa's grown children, and Papa go up 
to the open coffin to take leave, but no 
one else does, not even to make sure 
she's really dead. They're all afraid of 
her too. 
A schmaltzy rendition of Brahms' 
Lullaby starts up in one of the side 
alcoves of the funeral home parlor, 
screeches to a stop, and starts all over 
again. It's only eleven in the morning, 
but Victor the Violinist has probably 
had a drink already. Forty years ago, 
when he arrived from the Displaced 
Persons' Camps in Germany, he was a 
musician accomplished enough to be 
offered a position with the Indianapolis 
Symphony even though he didn't speak 
a word of English. But desperate drink- 
ing lost him that job as well as others in 
"continental" bars and restaurants, 
where low lights and his dark good 
looks transformed him into the Gypsy 
Violinist. Now in his seventies, Victor 
likes funerals. People address him as 
Artist Victor and there is good food, 
plenty of wine, and sometimes vodka at 
the meal afterward. 
The elderly Latvians sit patiently as 
Victor stumbles and starts for the third 
time. He is one of them, they know his 
past and his weaknesses, but they are 
just as glad that no Americans, who 
might judge him differently, are present. 
None of Randa's acquaintances, neigh- 
bors, or nursing aides from the hospital 
where she worked before my father mar- 
ried her has come to see her off. 
"What can we learn from this woman's 
life?" the middle-aged minister who has 
recently taken over Papa's congregation 
asks. The question, in his peculiarly 
accented Latvian acquired during his 
childhood in Brazil, receives no 
response from the two dozen or so of us 
scattered throughout the large room. He 
does not really expect us to answer 
because spontaneous verbal exchanges 
between minister and congregation are 
unheard of during the formal Lutheran 
services, but he looks ill at ease. He 
shuffles his notes, fails to find the 
answer, picks up his copy of the New 
Testament by the spine and shakes it 
until stray pieces of paper float down. 
"We must live so as to gain a wiser 
heart," he announces and hops, quick as 
a grasshopper, to his seat. 
Randa's son Juris, her only true 
mourner, wipes his eyes. Grief-stricken 
and thin, he looks a lot older than when 
I last saw him three years ago. Her 
daughter Lita goes up to the coffin for 
the second time and tugs at her mother. 
Then she turns around, stage-whispers 
"I got the rings," and drops something 
into Papa's hand. Lights flash. Either 
someone with a camera has chosen to 
document this moment or another thun- 
derstorm is arriving. 
Funeral home functionaries instead of 
pallbearers slide the coffin into a hearse, 
and I wonder whether my father is sad 
instead of only relieved. No longer will 
Randa paste hairs across the doors 
before leaving for the grocery store so 
she can check whether he, an upstand- 
ing Lutheran minister in his eighties, is 
sneaking next door to cavort with the 
head of the Ladies' Committee at 
church, a ninety-two-year-old widow. 
Nor will she phone him every hour on 
the hour the minute he arrives for one 
of his rare visits with me and my sister 
to announce that she has pneumonia, 
breast cancer, a slipped disk and a 
swollen ankle, and that he must catch 
the next plane to take her to the hospi- 
tal. I've never believed any of her com- 
plaints, but here she has up and died 
and proven me wrong. 
She had reasons for disliking me too. 
"Don't marry her, Papa," I said. "She'll 
make you miserable." She didn't even 
offer us a cup of coffee the first time I 
met her because she was too busy 
berating him for being unfaithful. A 
young woman in his congregation, 
whose father's funeral service he had 
conducted, had kissed him on the cheek 
when he wished her strength and 
courage in the coming days. "It doesn't 
matter to me," Randa said. "I have too 
many admirers of my own, but the 
whole congregation is talking about it." 
Dear, innocent Papa. He thought her 
jealousy was "feminine" and a sign of 
love. Nor did he catch on when Randa 
shoved my sister Beate aside as she 
tried to hug him on the steps of the 
church to wish him merry Christmas. 
(We were, of course, not allowed access 
to him otherwise on Christmas Eve or 
Christmas Day.) "Get away," she hissed. 
"He's mine." She pushed Beate again, 
almost toppling her onto the hard pave- 
ment below. But Papa must have quoted 
my warning to Randa in a moment of 
marital intimacy or, more likely, in the 
midst of an argument. 
Flashes of lightning, startling claps of 
thunder, and a violent downpour almost 
drown out an elderly member of the 
congregation who touches my elbow 
and whispers. "Country people in Latvia 
used to say that a storm during a funeral 
meant that the deceased wasn't a good 
"People sent her a lot of flowers 
though," I point out. 
"That's because your father asked for 
flowers instead of donations to the con- 
gregation or to the Latvian Society. She 
wouldn't have a wilted dandelion her- 
self. They're for your father really." 
"And for her children." They're one 
reason I didn't wear my red silk dress. 

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