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Celebrating life at a funeral
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In all my 30-something years - 11 of which I recall (parts of) - I had never heard the sentence.

It was uttered at a restaurant in Athens; a congregation of old college friends meet in the Classic City while I was in the area promoting my award-nominated tome, "The Greatest Book Ever Written About Cheese."

The conversation meandered to what we would be doing the next evening. I had a book-signing. One guy had a date with his wife - Home Depot, of course. Another guy was taking his kids to the movies.

"I'm going to be a bartender at a funeral."

The other sentences I had heard before. That one, as stated, was new.

My friend explained that his neighbor in Athens, a legend in the art and music community there, had passed away suddenly of cardiac arrest while hiking in the Grand Canyon. Being a good neighbor, my friend had asked the family what he could do for them in their time of grief. They asked him to bartend at the funeral. As far as sympathetic chores - a prime one, determined the table.

"Usually, when I do that, I end up mowing their yard for the next year or so," said one of our party.

My comment was much more pertinent.

"What do you wear to bartend at a funeral? Do you wear a tux?" I queried with concern. "Do you wear the same matching jacket as the funeral home crew? Obviously, this guy was a free spirit. Should you wear something comfortable, like shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, in his honor?"

We debated the proper, or improper, attire for bartending at a funeral for close to an hour before the subject went back to college football.

Too often, I go to funerals of people I know - people with sparkling personalities and robust lives - and their funerals are as dry as Arizona asphalt. I see nothing of them in the service.

While I know it's difficult to celebrate a life while we mourn its passing, I also feel its somewhat disrespectful to bleach a colorful lifetime with a drab, pedestrian funeral.

This wasn't the case with the gentleman in Athens.

My friend later issued a report on his funeral bartending gig. By order of his will, the man's passing was to be celebrated with a "party," and not a traditional funeral or wake. The need for a bartender at a funeral sort of gave that away.

The only beverages that could be served (again, by order of the will) were good wine, good scotch, and the late sir's favorite drink - a tasty concoction consisting of tequila and cranberry juice. Entertainment included the University of Georgia string quartet, several other solo musicians, and an interpretive dance.

Now, that's the way to go - a testament to the way you lived.

My friend's report, sadly, did not include what he wore to bartend at the "funeral party."

But, if you're asked to bartend at my "funeral party," and I hope you are - in 2069 - I request that you wear some jodhpurs, a T-shirt that says "I'm With Stupid," flip-flops, and one of those large foam cowboy hats.

I'll put it in my will in case you forget.

Len Robbins is an award-winning columnist whose weekly column appears in 21 newspapers in Georgia. He is editor and publisher of The Clinch County News in Homerville.