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“We’ve only just begun to live
White lace and promises
A kiss for luck and we’re on our way…”
“We’ve only begun,” I sang in a hushed declaration. I sat in an empty pew, staring at the water-stained carpet below me. Completely ignoring the horrific sight that stood guard before me, which was my father’s human remains now bounded within a large green urn I bought off of Amazon.com. The oblong container sat atop a white roman column, even though it was clearly made of Styrofoam, at the front of the half-empty room. The death of my dad was not a shock, but an uneasy welcomed sign of relief. He was now at peace, and so were we. Well, at least we hoped we would be with time. That was the go-to line, “at least he’s at peace now,” even if I thought it was a load of crap. I never imagined praying for my father to die, but I also never imagined I’d be inside a building that temporarily housed his ashes like some sort of weird art show. People came from all over, most were family, but some were strangers. I never imagined that at twenty-eight years old, I’d be attending my father’s funeral. I also never believed I could create a mixed cd filled with all of the hits from the seventies, or that the sweet melodies from the Carpenters would serenade a container of human remains.
“Before the risin’ sun, we fly
So many roads to choose
We’ll start out walkin’ and learn to run
(And yes, we’ve just begun)…”
“This is when Karen Carpenter really shows her skills,” the stranger near me said aloud. The sound of a tambourine shaking enters, as well as the chorus. It’s a true love song, “We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters. In the seventies, the song exploded onto the music scene and soon it was playing in the background of someone’s first kiss, first slow dance, or maybe when they lost their virginity in the back of a shag-carpeted van that reeked of mildew. For me, I first heard this song on the dusty radio of my dad’s beat-up red truck. Because he was a plasterer in Miami, my father often picked me up right after work, covered in powdered concrete. If you smacked the passenger seat with your palm, a cloud of white smoke rose then gently fell back into the fibers of the cushion. If you didn’t know this information, you may have thought my dad was a cocaine drug lord, like something out of Scarface. One afternoon, on a typical Florida rainy day, I was picked up by my dad after another lame day of school. We weren’t close then, and I was as angsty as I would ever be. I was a rebel with a cause, and that was to be what was known as an “emo” in 2006. So naturally, I hated all forms of music that weren’t “deep.” But on this day, he turned the volume knob on the radio and out arose a voice, that sliced through the truck with a wave of wholesomeness. Karen Carpenter’s singing was so clean and fresh, amongst a sea of crusty or hoarse female singers. She sounded like an angel, or something that was not of this world.
“They don’t make songs like this anymore,” he said. “Love was everything. Now, it’s all about having sex or doing drugs. Your generation doesn’t know anything about good music.”
I nodded in agreement, before letting out a small “heh.” Did I actually believe this statement to be true? At seventeen, I wasn’t about to let any old guy tell me what’s good or not good. Besides, there’s a reason classic rock is classic – it’s old, and old is boring. My dad was a man of the seventies, where he loved everything from southern rock to disco. That decade was the prime of his young life, much like this moment was the prime of mine. It would take me at least ten years before I began to bow down at the rock gods of the seventies and eighties. It would take another two years until I appreciated this Carpenters song, and to lose my dad at the same time.
The day after I held my father’s hand as I watched his body seize then come to an utter stop, we began planning a “Frankie” funeral. I wanted to celebrate the peculiarities and interests of my dad. This included the color green, everywhere, even the flowers. I went to the flower shop with my mom, where I spotted these green puffy-looking flowers that just screamed “Pick us! He would think we’re so cool!” So, I did, much to the disgust of my mom, who thought we should have gone with a more “traditional” flower set. “They look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book,” she said. “Maybe, but he would have thought they were ‘Coolio,’ as dad would say,” I said. Also, as part of the funeral planning, we asked that all attendees wear green, as a symbolic gesture. And to top it off, I brought in my dad’s Incredible Hulk keychain, that had then been on his truck keys for at least fifteen years and placed it upon a table near his urn. It’s safe to say that we had the green part down, but I wasn’t done yet. There was one crucial element left and I had to make sure it was perfect: the music.
If you’re of Italian heritage, classical music is often softly playing as mourners say their goodbyes. Josh Groban is played frequently, as is any sort of opera. But I didn’t want to send my dad off with music he didn’t jam out to when he was alive, so I surely wasn’t going to do it post-urn. Nope, this was a Frankie funeral, which meant absolute classic rock all the way. Even his life quote, which is placed on the service cards along a picture of him smiling with his signature chunky mustache, was by Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.” The quote read, “Forget your lust for the rich man’s gold / All that you need is in your soul.” Not even the funeral director could have possibly written a more perfect summary of who my father represented as a man.
A few days before the service, I sat down at my kitchen table with my mom. I pulled out a green blank cd, opened up my CD-ROM drive on my laptop, and began composing what would be known as “Frankie’s Mix.” I felt ecstatic while carefully choosing each song. Before long, I had over a dozen tabs open that all contained YouTube music videos of various songs. Some songs, I knew by heart, like “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” but others felt like a long-forgotten memory climbing back to the surface with each strike of the guitar chord. Then came “Simple Man,” naturally, and I threw in some Steve Miller Band and Glenn Campbell. Each song, I had to assure my mother that it would be to my father’s liking, so I occasionally turned to her and claimed, “I remember Dad listening to this song on the radio, he loved it,” I said. That’s when YouTube, in all its wisdom, recommended the video for “We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters.
There are always certain songs that when you hear it, bring about feelings of innocent joy. Like reuniting with a long-lost love, the song feels like everything is good in the world once more. This song encompasses every scope of emotion that enters my body as the melody serenades my ears and reaches the depths of my soul. And, as I walked around the funeral parlor containing family, strangers, and long-lost acquaintances, I could feel their reactions to the beautiful melodic rhythm of the song. The funeral director, a man in his late forties, marched straight up to me, shook my hand and asked, “Are you the one who created this mixed cd?” I nodded, unsure of what I was about to face. To be honest, I half expected to be told that it was an inappropriate choice for such a somber event. My mix definitely wasn’t anything like a Josh Groban cd. Instead of receiving some sort of backlash, his neutral expression turned into a large smile as he reached for my right hand and shook it. “In all of my years working in this industry, I’ve never heard such a great mixed cd, great job” he said, before walking away to greet the late arrivals and direct them to the sign in sheet.
I sat there for a moment, filled with complete and utter pride. In some sort of weird cosmic event, I felt like I just shook the hand of my father, and not the funeral director. Maybe this was a sign, a sign from Frankie to let his only daughter know that I did good. That though his life was over, but mine had still only just begun. And with the Carpenters song slowly reaching its completion, harmony penetrated my broken heart as my personal eulogy for my father came to a nourishing end.
“And when the evening comes, we smile
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow
And yes, we’ve just begun.”
—The Carpenters, “We’ve Only Just Begun”
Bethany Bruno was born and raised in South Florida. She attended Flagler College, where she earned a B.A in English. She later earned her M.A in English from the University of North Florida. Her work has been previously published in Lunch Ticket Magazine, Dash Literary Journal, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Still Point Arts Quarterly, October Hill Magazine, Litro Magazine, etc. She's working on her first novel and seeking representation.