Saturday, February 05, 2005

I was resting up from last night's partying, trying to catch a little nap, when I heard in the distance the sound of a brass band playing. I opened the gate to see if I could see anything and stepped out into a long line of cars backed up on Truman Avenue. In the distance, up around Duval St., I could see and hear that looked like a parade. I locked the gate and headed up Truman. At the corner of Whitehead St. I caught up with a hearse and stretch limo following a small brass, reed and drum band made of about ten African-American men in black pants and white shirts. They were preceded by a group of twenty or so women or girls all dressed in fancy white dresses and wearing white gloves. They were stepping in time with the music, that little shuffle step you see in wedding and graduation marches -- left, right beside, right, left beside.

I had, of course figured out that this was a typical Caribbean/New Orleans-style funeral procession. I hurried ahead of the marchers to the Presbytarian church on Simonton Street, between Petronia and Angela Sts. where a large crowd had already gathered outside the church. At the church the band re-formed in the street across from the church entrance and the marchers in white formed an aisle up the steps as the bearers carried the casket up the steps, followed by the mourners who were waiting by the door.

It was a very moving thing to watch as the community mourned the loss of one of its sisters. I was -- and still am -- inclined to return to the church in hopes of seeing the recessional portion of the march from the church to the cemetery.

I'll be back in a while.
As I left to go out to revisit the Presbyterian Church, Janet was arriving back home, so we went together to Simonton St. The funeral service was still underway inside, so we went to the corner of Simonton and Angela Sts., the route that leads to the cemetery at the Windsor and Passover Lanes, and waited. At about 5:30, the mourners began to file out and the band and marchers re-formed to lead the procession to the cemetery. The band struck up a much livelier tempo and played "When the Saints Go Marching In, and other tunes I didn't recognize. The marchers began a dance-like step to the music and the cortege moved slowly in the direction of the cemetery.

We waited by the gate for everyone to file inside and to the site of the burial crypt, then took a position where we could observe without being in anybody's way. The graveside service was much like any other -- prayers, a hymn, and then the interment. It being almost dark by now, we bicycled back to our apartment.

It was a rare opportunity to observe a cultural event that is not often held any more. Upon getting back to the house, I looked in the obituaries and found that the deceased was a woman of 61 years named Myrna Eloise Brown Sawyer. Sawyer is an historic name in Key West. The family first arrived here in the immigrations from the Bahamas that took place in the 1800's. Mrs. Sawyer's death notice counted a large number of survivors. We noted that cars in the funeral cortege were from New York, Texas, and other states in addition to those from Florida.

We were not alone in being observers. Many people lined the route of the procession, some coming out of their homes along the way to watch quietly. It was, in a sense, a privilege to be able to bear witness to how a different community than ours honors one of its own.

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