My family isn’t really into funerals. Thankfully, I’ve been to very few in my life but the one I remember the most was my grandmother’s brother. They called him “Unc” (short for uncle) and he was the mischief-maker. The one who would steal the fudge frosting my mom would take off her cupcake and try to save until the end (my mom is weird, we eat that first mom!). When we got to the church, no one prepared me for what I was about to see: my great-uncle’s dead body raised so we could see him. That triggered by first-ever panic attack. No idea why – but I couldn’t breathe and I for sure couldn’t go in.
Note: I am doing this thing on my podcast where I read the news from the event and comment on it – like Mystery Science 3000. It’s cool because I see things in the article I have forgotten or didn’t realize now that we have more information. I don’t read the article before I write this blog because I want to write from my memory, not other people’s interpretation of the events. So be sure to listen to the Newscast episodes on my podcast if you want even more information.
My dad’s funeral was huge. At least it seemed huge to me. I don’t even know if it was a funeral or a memorial service or, as I remember it, the place where we hoped the murderer would show up. I guess my life has been a little weird. But let me slow down and go back to what I can remember.
In which, relatives arrive and there’s lots of crying.
I remember my grandpa crying. He couldn’t seem to stop. I can’t imagine his grief. This was his lawyer son who’d had ambition and was bigger than life. And now, he was gone in the most horrific way possible. His life stolen while on the precipice of a huge honor he was sure would come. That judgeship.
Grampa had come to town with his other son, my Uncle Don. My grampa was about the most cuddly, sweet man I’d ever met. Thanks to him, I thought that’s how grampas were supposed to be. Patient, kind and obsessed with his garden. When we saw him at his house in Sacramento, it always included a walk around the back yard and a tasting of the various things he grew. For a Curtis Park backyard, he managed to cram a cornucopia of plants back there. My favorites were always the tomatoes and berries. I gotta give mad props to my mom because as we kids got bored and ended-up playing on his back lawn, she’d stay with him, listening and talking. She loved my grampa very much – he was like her second dad.
My uncle, on the other hand, is a badass. He tended to be quiet, almost broody; but then, if he had a beer or got a little loose, that Smith charisma would shine through. He served in the Navy and did the survivor training (I know I don’t have the right name for it and my apologies to all who know exactly what I’m talking about). There’s a family story about Uncle Don coming home to see me after I was born, and he was bruised and battered after that training. And he wouldn’t tell anyone what happened. For my mom, who has always loved Don as a younger brother, it upset her. I remember her talking about it. I’m sure it upset my dad too. He was very protective of his brother. I didn’t necessarily think of my uncle as James Bond, but his persona had that mystery for me. He was always gone, was doing good and serving our country.
Going through the motions, getting ready to go.
For me, I had decided I wasn’t going to be emotional. These are things 18 year olds think they can control. The police had told us the funeral was extremely important for them. They were going to be there, under cover, because often perps would show up at a funeral, especially if there were feelings involved (I’ll let you speculate on which exact feelings those might be). They were going to be all over this thing and if lucky, they’d catch the bad guy right at the event. I was completely caught up with the idea of this and it provided a course of distraction that would end up helping me not cry.
We all had to dress nicely – buying clothes had been the bane of my existence. As a heavy-set, short teen, I can assure you looking contemporary was not my strong suit. I wore a blazer, shirt and pants. I know this sounds normal, but when you have extra-large arms (thanks Dad for the genetics), it really means I was hopelessly uncomfortable. The boys were in pants and dress shirts. None of us wore black.
The funeral was in Santa Paula, a smaller town just east of Ventura. We grew up there. It’s an amazingly sweet town and by age five I was proud to declare you could dump me anywhere in town and I could find my way home. I might have already mentioned, it’s also where everyone knew we were Lyman’s kids and we’d be busted if we did anything wrong because of that. As a kid, it was both awesome and kinda sucked. But I made damn sure that was the kind of community I chose to raise my kid – Santa Cruz, while bigger, is a lot like that.
We are not church people.
We always had a strong sense of duty in our house and I was raised with great values, but it wasn’t because “God said”. As a family of principles (if you haven’t picked up on this theme by now, you haven’t been paying attention), we did the right thing because it was right. The result was, we didn’t do church. I had, on my own. I don’t think my brothers did at all. The idea we were having a funeral at a church was weird for us. I have no idea how it was chosen and who set everything up. I had been busy with all the other noise during the week and in my mind, the adults had just done what adults do.
There were a ton of people there when we arrived. We walked into a courtyard, as I remember it, that provided the entry to the church. We were escorted in and taken up front. It was me, Jay, Gary, mom, grampa and Uncle Don. I’m sure my dad’s law partners were there and the Lewis’ – the folks who helped Gary just a week before on that fated Sunday. I bet there were Rotarians and folks from the Latino community – my dad was very supportive of local activities. I swear, he had an in with all the Mexican food restaurants because we’d be treated like royalty whenever he took us to Andrea’s, Casa Manana or Las Quince Letras. And police. Lots of police.
Here’s what else I don’t remember.
I don’t remember what people said about them. I know there was talking and probably some ministerial stuff. But nope. Nothing. I don’t remember where my mom was. I just called her, and she said she sat on the end of the pew trying to be invisible. She said she was the ex-wife and felt kinda odd being at the funeral and in a church. I don’t remember something else I did – and I so appreciated my mom telling me this story – because it made me feel really good. Apparently, Gary was initially sitting next to Grampa. Imagine a small boy, still 12, sitting next to a grown older man who could not stop crying. Mom told me she noticed I saw what was happening and told Gary to switch places with me, so I could help Grampa (and Gary). That explains why I remember what I do – me spending the funeral comforting my dad’s dad.
Charlene had a lot of friends as well. She didn’t really have relatives, but there were people who loved her dearly, like the Doyle family. Mike Doyle was her ex-husband, but his mom and sister didn’t seem to care. They had a soft spot for Charlene and likely knew she needed family. Her best friend was a woman named Jill Morrill and we had done things with Jill’s family. Charlene adored her kids and Jill’s daughter Tiffany was like the daughter Charlene wished she’d had. I have always wondered how Tiffany handled Charlene’s death. I think she was still young when it happened. There were also folks from law enforcement and the legal community who had worked with Charlene.
We don’t have the guestbook.
If I truly wanted to know who was there, I don’t have any way to do it. As I remember – and again I could be wrong here – but as I remember the police took the guestbook. It was potential evidence if the killer had signed in (I’ve asked them to keep an eye peeled as they go back through the evidence today). There are also likely many, many photographs of all the people there. I am sure hours were spent pouring over the faces, as the police tried to see if they’d get lucky. I’m also sure someone will ask, but I have no idea, if Joe Alsip was there. I would expect he was; he wasn’t a suspect and it was good manners to come, but I don’t know for sure.
We didn’t have any kind of reception, or whatever it’s called, after the event. I remember people milling about the courtyard afterward, talking with one another. And then it was over. We went home. I have a feeling my uncle left quickly afterward as he had to get back to his Navy assignment. I’m also pretty sure Grampa went home the next day as well.
There were no bodies at the service. Both Lyman and Charlene were cremated but I think that happened later because for a while both bodies were evidence. I wish I could remember more, but with so much happening on several fronts, this didn’t feel like the most important thing. Maybe I’ll remember more when I read the press clippings. I’ll do that for the podcast.