Danny Heitman’s 'At Random' : In spring, a push toward life

Funerals being what they are, the one honored is always the quietest person in the room. That was certainly the case last weekend, as those of us who loved Patsy Berteau gathered to tell her goodbye.

While mourners stood in the funeral parlor and swapped stories, she lay silently in a casket at the front, seemingly at peace after 85 years of living.

But even during her lifetime, Patsy was equally unobtrusive, content to stay out of the limelight while others got the attention. She was whip-smart, and in some other era, Patsy might have built a high-profile career. But she led the modest life of a housewife and mother, raising five children, including my classmate Charles, who have all done great things.

My first memory, on hearing of Patsy’s death, was of the time she drove Charles and me some 50 miles through heavy rain to attend the state science fair, her windshield wipers clacking as solemnly as a metronome as we worked our way to the arena. I now realize that was no joyride for Patsy, but it was all in a day’s work for a woman who embraced her family as her vocation.

Funerals in spring bring complicated emotions. There’s comfort, I guess, in knowing that in the midst of death, so much of the world is pushing itself toward renewal. Maybe that’s why I stopped at the feed and seed store near the funeral home after paying my respects to Patsy. The sign out front announced a new supply of chicks and goslings, and the chance to see them seemed like good medicine for a man musing on mortality.

On entering the store, I could hear the chicks before I saw them. A single chick is hardly louder than the beep on a digital watch, but a few dozen of them sound more like a tea kettle at full boil. At the brooder near the front, chicks and goslings bustled in tiers, easily visible through the wire mesh that held them inside.

The New Hampshire reds were saffron yellow, like the chicks of storybooks, with just a hint of rust along their backs to suggest the color they’d wear in maturity. The brown leghorns wore tawny stripes, a bit like song sparrows. The goslings, as yellow as rubber duckies, and with little gray streaks here and there like smatterings of ash, huddled near the brooder’s electric bulb, reminding me of youngsters around a campfire.

I’ve visited this feed and seed store since childhood. Going there takes me not only through shelves of pesticide, fertilizer and farm tools, but through time.

Spotting me near the brooder, a clerk asked if I needed help, although she probably knew that a man in a suit and tie probably wasn’t a serious customer.

I bought a bag of birdseed at the counter, daydreaming on the way home of the finches and cardinals and chickadees I’d feed later in the evening.

That’s why I like feed and seed stores. Each visit, while freighted with memory, always points me ahead.