My great-great-grandfather attended four of his five funerals, one time disguised as an aunt from Sicily. For the last one, when it was finally really him, the priest refused to perform the funeral Mass unless the family agreed to bury him in a glass coffin. He was shot in the head at close range with a Colt .45, so it didn't actually prove a damn thing. The police attended to make sure it was really him, and they insisted on opening the coffin, pulling down his pants, and checking he had a tattoo where his old prison canary buddy said it would be.
The cops made up for their indiscretion by bearing the coffin to the graveyard. Some newspapermen claimed they did it so the family couldn't hide another body in there at the last minute. I shit you not. The priest got in a fight with the detective for disrupting the funeral and gave the cop a bloody nose. The Sun printed a photo of the flatfoot wiping blood from his shirt with the padre still screaming in his face.
But all that happened in the 1930s, during Prohibition. It was easier to fake a death back then, easier still to find a body to bury. Still, my great-grandfather was declared killed in action twice during the Second World War. And I don't mean getting pulped by an artillery shell or nothing — my family paid their respects to two poor bastards who got identified wrong. The second one, my grandmother threw a fit when they gave her personal effects with some other woman's photo included.
Don’t blame the Army, though. The second time great-grandad was discovered to be alive, they found him in a wine cellar in Sicily, and he had the dog tags of an Italian infantryman around his neck. He never told anyone how he got them, or what he’d been up to. My dad told me the name on the tags was common in the part of the old country where our family was from, before we came to America. He figured great-grandad had been working on the family business.
My great-grandfather finally died of old age in Pasadena when he was ninety-seven.
My grandfather and father, they kept things running, kept the traditions up. My grandfather only had two funerals, a fake one he always called "pulling an Elvis", and the real one, forty years later. He insisted the stiff they buried the first time was Jimmy Hoffa, and that he'd killed him himself. The old man always was kind of full of it.
By the time my father was taking care of things, it was almost impossible to fake a funeral, at least an open casket one. And I have to admit, it’s a known fact that coroner’s offices throughout the Eastern Seaboard had notes posted reminding staff to be extra-thorough when a stiff IDed with our surname came in. Dad got declared missing and presumed dead three times though — none too shabby when satellites and computers are tracking your every damned move. He lived to be 105, never went on the net, never had a smartphone, even after the government made them mandatory. He used to carry an empty phone shell in his breast pocket so cops on the beat wouldn't hassle him.
So. Times change. Life goes on. But some things, the important things, like family, and tradition, those things stay the same, you know? In a few minutes I'm going to honour the long line of brave and smart men whose loins I'm sprung from, and I'm gonna up the ante for my children and grandchildren.
As soon as that coroner gets done with arranging all his tools, I'm gonna attend my own autopsy.