The LATE Show

“If you’re not here in the next sixty seconds, I’m leaving without y’all!” As I texted those words to two of my friends on Saturday, I (and probably they) knew that I was bluffing. But we had tickets to see guitarist Laurence Juber in Northern Virginia that evening and I knew that our schedule was going to be tight. Several minutes later, my pals showed up and we headed up the dreaded I-81 to catch an incredible concert.

Everybody in my circle of family and friends knows that I am a true stickler for punctuality. If we agree on a certain time, I expect you to be present and ready at the appointed hour. Whether it’s for a concert, going out to eat, a sporting event, or simply a walk on the greenway, BE ON TIME! This mantra drives my wife and son crazy, but it’s now an inherent part of my DNA and I’m too old to change. Heck, I’m the one on time, so why should it be ME that’s expected to change?

My dad was like this too, and I can remember him pacing and stewing as my mom was still getting ready to go out for a function. Since I obviously “got” this trait honestly, I’ve been aware of it for decades. Not only do I have to be on time, I feel that if I’m not early, I’m actually tardy! While it may be a hereditary thing, I also feel as if my chosen vocation of funeral service may have played a huge part in my propensity to live by the clock. Almost everything we do at Oakey’s has to do with time. What TIME is the funeral? What TIME is the family coming in to make arrangements? How much TIME do we have left to get the obituary in the newspaper? Is it TIME to gather the relatives into the family room and close the casket? While I know there have been times we started funerals late, I take it as a personal failure if the clergy does not begin the service at the exact minute the attendees expect it to start. Kin of the decedent can probably see my stress level rise as they tell me “We’re going to have to begin the funeral late because (insert name of the family member here) isn’t here yet.” It certainly doesn’t help when they find out that the late relative is still 25 minutes away from Roanoke!

And there are times when someone will ask me a time-related question that I have no idea how to answer. When calling the police department for an escort to the cemetery, the dispatcher invariably will ask “What time will the funeral be over?” Well, I’m certainly not going to ask the preacher “How long are you going to go today?” and I’ve seen services last anywhere from five minutes to two hours! I’ve been on church funerals where the reception committee hosts a luncheon after the cemetery committal and they will ask me what time I think friends and family will be getting back to the church for the meal. That’s impossible to pinpoint, although I will give them a guesstimate.

Talk about stress levels rising: we schedule our services at 10 AM, noon and 2 PM at our chapels in order to keep them from running into each other. Since the average time of a funeral is about 40 minutes, this works out well 99.5% of the time. But remember earlier when I mentioned funerals that can last two hours? Can you imagine clock-obsessed Sammy sweating bullets on a 10 AM service that is approaching 90 minutes, as attendees for the noon service begin to filter into the building? Heck, I get a queasy feeling in my stomach just THINKING about it! I’ve even heard stories about my great-grandfather walking into the back of the chapel and giving the hand-across-the-throat motion to the minister, to let him know that it was time to begin wrapping up his remarks! Pretty sure that wouldn’t happen today!

I know “stuff happens” and delays can occur. Flat tires, traffic jams, sudden illnesses, accidents, and emergencies are part of life. But habitual lateness drives me batty, as everyone who knows me well can attest to. So blame my dad, blame the funeral profession or blame my OCD tendencies. But just know that there’s no such thing as “fashionably late” in my vocabulary.