Show proper respect during funeral procession
William Carlos Williams' poem, "Tract," started insinuating itself into my mind soon after the funeral procession left the Renner-Wikoff Chapel & Crematory on South Philo Road in Urbana and headed off for Grandview Cemetery to pay our respects to Vietnam veteran and Veteran of Foreign Wars Junior State Commander Ron Hubert. He had died unexpectedly in Marion, Ill., on Jan. 14, after delivering a speech about the Voice of Democracy youth essay/writing contest he was so proud of working with and had worked with for years.
"I will teach you my townspeople how to conduct a funeral ..."
But it wasn't so much the funeral I thought about that day. Like the poet, though, I was thinking about taking Ron to his grave with a sense of dignity and decorum that was deserving of one who gave so much to the community.
As the procession pulled out of the funeral home, heading south on Philo Road, a few cars pulled over to the right and paused as a sign of the respect that I learned years ago. Others didn't stop. Which was no surprise to me. Things are so much different in many ways now than they were when I was growing up in southern Illinois. And Urbana-Champaign is a much larger city than where I grew up and learned to pull over to the side of the road until the procession passed, a show of respect for the deceased and those losing a loved one.
When we turned on Windsor Road and headed west, the hearse led us into the left-hand lane — "See the hearse leads," the poet says — driving slowly, flags waving on the top of each car in the group. Cars started whizzing by on the right side while some cars did pull off on the south side, headed east. Looking ahead, I saw a Roto-Rooter truck stop, causing the cars behind it to stop, as well.
Just beyond the Roto-Rooter truck, a small Mass Transit District shuttle passed the procession — the driver in the car in front of me later told me he had called the MTD office to report it. By this time, my father's words echoing in my ears with a "Pull 'er over, " my drill instructor's commanding voice filing the air, "Road guards out," and Williams' poem running through my head, I'd had enough: I drifted over into the right-hand lane, blocking any cars from passing the procession.
Near the stoplight on First Street, I glanced in my rearview mirror and was flabbergasted to see a car dart in line with the procession to turn left at the stoplight. I could only imagine how anyone could be in such a hurry.
By the time we turned left on Staley Road, most cars were now stopping in the opposing lane and pulling over to the side of the road. Even a semi-trailer truck stopped and pulled over slightly.
I realize that not everyone is in tune with showing this manner of respect for a funeral procession, and in cities larger than Urbana-Champaign the custom may not always be practical on some highways. Nor is it practical when there is a danger to the traffic. But there was no danger on this day, no reason for not stopping briefly.
Clearly, Williams' poem is from a different time and is to teach those participating in the funeral, not those stopping along the side of the road. But pulling off to the side of the road and stopping for a moment as a sign of respect is not too much to expect when any of us are carried off to our final resting place, is it?
And for his service in our military, for his dedication in assisting veterans in many ways and for his work with the VFW and the Voice of Democracy youth program (http://www.vfw.org/Community/Voice-of-Democracy) that has been the hallmark of a national speech and writing contest that gives students the opportunity to express themselves and earn scholarships since 1948 when CBS' late Charles Kuralt was the first winner, Ron Hubert deserved a little respect. To show him that respect would have taken only a few minutes by pulling off to the side of the road while the procession passed.
All of that and so much more is why so many local veterans and VFW members here and from around the state and friends attended his visitation and funeral on Jan. 17, to pay their respects, and why it is right and proper to do so whenever you see a funeral procession pass.
"Go now, I think you are ready," William Carlos Williams wrote in the last two lines of his poem. I can only echo that notion and hope you are ready.
Ray Elliott is an author and a former high school teacher who lives in rural Urbana.