A single church bell marked cadence as the congregation followed a shoulder-borne casket to the cemetery. Pallbearers matched steps behind an angelic-faced altar boy carrying a large crucifix. The entire village gathered to honor the life of one of its founding pioneers; an original immigrant who came from Silesia in 1855.
The gaping grave disappeared from view as the casket was gently lowered onto support planks. The pallbearers struggled to step away and avoid the mound of fresh earth. With heads bowed, they formed a line at one end of the casket. The congregation closed ranks around their mourning neighbors.
Thin wisps of smoke rose from a censer, filling the morning air with the sweet and solemn scent of incense. The priest removed the asperger from its bucket and with water blessed last Holy Saturday, sprinkled the casket and congregation, commending the deceased to an eternal rest. A single cold drop landed on the cheek of a small boy standing next to his father, startling him from his daydream. His attention fell on a solitary figure, an old man standing alone at the edge of the congregation, he seemed so very sad.
As the priest invoked the ancient Latin prayers, sobs were heard from the mourners. The congregation drew nearer. The priest directed his attention to the mourners and in a soft voice spoke the Polish to say, “Your beloved rests in the arms of our Jesus and his Mother Mary”. Gently, he drew a pinch of the freshly dug earth and placed it on the casket, “remember, we are dust and to dust we will return”. With a sign of the cross he blessed the congregation, turned and walked toward the church.
As each villager walked by, another bit of the precious earth was placed on the casket. Condolences had already been offered, but each would touch the mourners’ hands, or pat their shoulder, another would just nod sympathetically in their direction. As the last to pass the casket concluded their ritual and joined the irregular line of villagers heading in the direction of the church, the sad old man stepped forward. Bending over, he picked up a large clod of earth. His eyes were ablaze. He slammed the clod against the casket and shouted, “Take that you beast!” Such was the memory of Aemilian Kosub who, as a boy, witnessed Valentine Mroz saying good-bye to Barbara, who had been his wife for over 30 years. (2)