Harold had a way of dragging everything out. He wasn’t slow, he just wasn’t in a hurry to do much of anything. His mother’s exasperation at her son’s tardiness began when she had to wake him for his 3:00 a.m. breastfeeding. As a result, his mother came to call her son Harold Tardy Jessup. Late to rise, late to meals, late to school, late to everything, which prompted his mother to complain, “Harold, you’ll be late for your own funeral.”
The number of times he missed the school bus did little to endear himself with his mother, who ended up driving him far too many times. Homework and test papers always came in late and drove his teachers to commiserate with Harold’s parents at every parent teacher conference. The boy took it all in stride, without care, living in his laid-back existence.
Harold was drafted into the army during World War II, because he waited too long to join the navy. In the army, his propensity for tardiness drove his drill sergeants crazy and to call him the Late Private Jessup. When his unit hit the beaches in Normandy on D-Day, Harold was late exiting his landing craft, which turned out to be a blessing. By the time he jumped into the water the machinegun nest that had mowed down his buddies was knocked out of action. That earned him a new nickname, Lucky Go Lately. It proved to be true. On multiple occasions Harold survived only because he was late to move.
When Harold came home after the war, his mother was relieved. She was convinced her son would die and then be officially known as the Late Harold Jessup, but he surprised her. However, he missed his train, returning home late, leaving everyone waiting at the station.
Lucky Go Lately struck again when he missed the Staten Island ferry one day and ended up meeting Judy, the future Mrs. Jessup, which almost didn’t happen when he was forty minutes late to his own wedding.
As time moved on, Harold got to disappoint and frustrate a whole new generation with his consistent tardiness to his kids’ school functions, sporting events, and parties. But deep down he was a very likeable guy and people found it difficult to be mad at Harold Jessup. Instead, they accepted his behavior and eventually developed Harold Time and learned to accurately predict the man’s appearance by adding ninety minutes to any schedule involving Tardy Jessup.
Oddly enough, the older Harold got, the shorter the margin for his tardiness became, and ninety minutes gradually shrunk to thirty by the time he had seven grandkids and retired from his job at Timex. Following a decade of retirement in the desert southwest, away from the cold northeast where he had spent most of his life, Harold gradually synchronized with the world around him. This surprised all those who knew him and certainly would have floored his mother, who never lived to see the day Harold was actually on time for dinner or any other important event.
He may have been Tardy Jessup most of his life, but good health and luck with his body, which earned him his Lucky Go Lately moniker, stayed with him as he approached his eightieth birthday. He actually bought himself an exercise bike and set it up in his living room, where he could keep in shape as he watched time pass over the desert landscape.
Then one day, a few days before his birthday, Harold felt some need to prove to Judy how fit he was and decided to execute a fancy dismount from his exercise bike. Unfortunately, he tangled up his foot and he and the machine came crashing down, which resulted in breaking Harold’s hip and leg.
Off he went to the hospital where they patched him up and remarked on how well he recovered. Then on his birthday, while still in the hospital, Harold succumbed suddenly to a post-operative complication and died within minutes of his actual birth, eighty years earlier.
The news of his death stunned and shocked friends and family alike, such was his reputation of being a hell of a nice guy. He left behind his wife, four children, eleven grandchildren, and three greatgrandchildren, all mourning the passing of a man they all thought would live forever. So, when it came time for Harold’s funeral, which would take place at the cemetery back east, in the family plot, buried next to his departed mother, Harold’s large loving family planned to gather for the final service honoring the Late Harold Jessup.
Harold was a practical man, knowing he would be interred back east in the family plot, he had the foresight to have his body cremated, saving the expense of shipping his corpse back east for the funeral. Judy flew back for the family gathering, as they cremated Harold’s body, boxed up his ashes were for transportation, and placed him in the capable and prompt hands of FedEx for shipment to the east coast funeral home.
The day of the somber event arrived, as did the Jessup clan at the graveside next to Harold’s mother. The large family of wife, children, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren, along with surviving friends of Harold’s days in business, and old army comrades who remembered the man as Lucky Go Lately. They all sat in chairs neatly arranged around the open grave, awaiting the arrival of the funeral director, delivering Harold’s last remains to his final resting place, where time would cease forever for the man they all loved and missed.
The sun shone brightly on the crowd, which came to their feet when the funeral director approached in his shiny black Cadillac. The minister in his robes stood, thumbing through the prayer book, black cassock fluttering in the breeze, getting ready for the solemn rite, as the family prepared to say goodbye.
The shiny black Cadillac pulled up nearby and the funeral director, dressed in his fine working black suit, emerged from the car and approached the gathered mourners, wearing his professional somber face, calibrated to match the grief of the waiting crowd. He stepped up next to the minister, their heads leaned close as the director whispered in the minister’s ear. The Minister stepped forward a moment later and cleared his throat to address the waiting gathering.
“Mrs. Jessup, family, and friends, I came here today to preside over the funeral service of beloved Harold Jessup, to inter his mortal ashes to the earth and God’s care. My job is to provide comforting words to the grieving family and friends for the loss of their loved one. In all my years, performing this final rite of man’s time on earth, I have never had to find the words to express what I must tell you all now. It would seem that somehow there was a mix-up with FedEx and, well, Harold Jessup’s ashes did not arrive at the funeral home as arranged. As a result, we’re not sure just where Harold is at the moment, but we do know he will not be with us here, right now, for the service we had planned for the man.”
Did the gathering of mourners feel shock and surprise? The younger members of the funeral party were shocked, as was the minister and the funeral director. Harold’s army buddies had a difficult time not smiling and laughing and his wife Judy shook her head, feeling sad but not surprised that all the improvements her husband had made over the years, to be prompt and avoid tardiness, unraveled at the last minute. Perhaps if the people gathered in the family plot had the sensitivity in their feet and listened ever so carefully, they would have detected Harold’s mother, long dead and buried, rolling in her grave with laughter that her son had lived up to her expectations and had indeed been late to his own funeral.