With the precious load secured in the back of the hearse, the driver checked the rear-view mirror for any sign of the priest. The mourning coaches were nearly ready to move off. It was not uncommon in country parishes for the priest to cadge a lift to the graveyard, in the passenger seat of the hearse.
Father Joe was a regular, in wintertime. Sure, it saved him the petrol and the hearse was warmer than his own jalopy. He was a short, stout, fussy, fiddly man, unfamiliar with punctuality, who gave the impression of falling over his own feet.
Five minutes passed before the mumbling holy father fell into the front seat, the contents of his open bag spilled onto the foot-well around his shoes. Footering about with his hands, he gathered the accoutrements. There was something missing: His bottle of Holy water. Bending over, his hands went under the seat once more. He found the bottle and quickly put it into the bag.
At the graveside, the prayers were said and Father Joe splashed the Holy water liberally over the grave and the coffin in the final blessing before the body was committed to the freshly dug grave. Several of the mourners were overcome with coughing.
When all the rituals were completed Father Joe had a few words with the family, then returned to the hearse to cadge a lift home. Huffing and puffing he mentioned that the Holy water had a quare perfume to it. The driver did not need to be told, he almost choked on the fumes.
It was then it dawned on him.
Earlier that morning a package was delivered to his office. He did not have time to open it, so brought it with him to check out later. He had done so while the church service was in progress. Just as he discovered the contents, the mourning coach driver gave him the nod that the service was nearly over. He pushed the bottle under the seat. It was a gift from a grateful customer, a bottle of very expensive aftershave.
Father Joe certainly ended that funeral on a sweet note!
Based on a true story, told on RTE radio, by Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade