On the Dear Departed

Damon Runyon

My old man used to say he hated to hear of anybody dying but that it made him tired when people took to boosting some departed citizen who was no account when he was living.

My old man said that he did not think that just the act of dying rounded up a fellow who had been petty and mean. He said the idea that you should say only good of the dead was bosh as far as he was concerned unless the dead was somebody you could say good of in life.

Naturally he came in for some criticisms back in our old home town of Pueblo, because no matter how ornery a chap might have been our people were inclined to forget that side of him when the undertaker dropped around to his house. They then usually tried to think up a few boosts for the departed.

My old man could not see that at all. He said he was always willing to join the boosters if they could show him where the deceased prior to shaking off this mortal coil had made any attempt at reparation for a lifetime of mistreatment of his fellow men in public or private, but that nobody ever presented him with such proof but just said he ought not to talk that way about somebody who was dead.

My old man said he did not see why death should make liars of a lot of the living. He used to make it a point to attend the last sad rites over defunct citizens who had had no popularity in the community to say the least, and were known for traits other than philanthropy or good nature, and he said it astonished him the way even the preachers sometimes tried to make white out of black.

My old man said he thought that set a bad example to the community. He said he did not claim that the preachers ought always to tell the plain unvarnished truth about every departed citizen, unless it could be nice truth, but he did think they should be more noncommittal.

My old man said he could see that the unvarnished truth would often get the preachers in trouble with the surviving heirs of the departed, unless of course, the will had already been read and it had come out that the departed had left all his dough to charity and cut them off with the proverbial shilling.

My old man would have liked the story about the no-good fellow they were burying over in Pennsylvania. A preacher who did not know the departed but had a vague idea that his character was not too hot, read a psalm and, then not altogether at ease over dismissing anybody in this perfunctory fashion, said to the handful of persons assembled at the grave:

“And now perhaps some friend of the departed would like to say something.”

There was a long silence and finally a mournful-looking man with a drooping moustache stepped forward, cleared his throat and said:

“Well, if no one else has anything to say, I would like to seize this opportunity to make a few remarks on the iniquities of the New Deal.”

My old man said he thought it was downright hypocritical for people to send big bunches of flowers to the funeral of some fellow they knew very well had underpaid his employees, short-changed his customers, oppressed his tenants, and otherwise been pretty much of a heel in life.

He said it was hypocritical to waste time following to some distant burying ground the mortal remains of a chap you disliked and who disliked you when he was alive, and when somebody once told him that it was just a mark of sympathy with the bereaved family my old man laughed right out loud.

He remembered the time he was in Riley’s saloon taking exceptions to the liberal boosting by a friend of a lately departed citizen of considerable prominence. The friend said it was a great loss to the community and a greater loss to the man’s family.

My old man said that he would give a small cash reward to anybody who could prove to him that the departed had ever done a lick of good for the community. He said he did not know about the man’s family but that from what he knew of the man he would bet he had his wife and children scared of him and that he was as stingy and mean with them as he was with everybody else and that they were probably relieved that he had left them.

A good-looking young chap followed my old man out of the saloon and tapped him on the shoulder and drew him into a doorway and said:

“Friend, I am the departed’s oldest son and I wish you would not go around knocking his memory—but between you and me, friend, everything you said is true.”