Everybody agrees Carl Schneider loved to play the horses, but nobody imagined how heavenly a horse would run for him a week ago.
Schneider, 70 years old, died last week of complications after a heart operation. He had a wife, Ida, and five children and five grandchildren and one great-grandchild, who were his love.
Also, he had horse racing, which was his delight.
And this was why, on the day before Carl would be laid to rest last week, Ida Schneider asked one of her sons to drive over to Laurel Racetrack and get a racing form for the next day's races.
"A racing form?" the son asked.
"A farewell gesture," Ida said softly.
She knew, of course, of her husband's equine devotions. She knew he'd grown up in Bowie, not far from the track. She knew he'd always gone to the races at least once a week, sometimes with his son Earl, sometimes with his buddy Jim Dick. She knew that, win or lose, Carl would come home with a poker face and never tell how he'd done because either way, he'd gotten a day of fun out of it, which was the whole point.
And now last Thursday, on the morning her husband would be buried, here was Ida Schneider reaching a hand into her husband's open casket and gently placing a Laurel racing form into the breast pocket of his suit coat.
From behind the casket now came the Rev. Ed Droxler of St. Joseph's Church in Odenton. As he began his eulogy, Father Droxler happened to glance down at the casket.
Now his mind began to spin a little. Father Droxler has been a priest for 44 years, and he's seen many items placed in coffins next to the dearly departed.
But never, in 44 years, had a racing form been among them.
And now the good father's mind did a slight back flip, to that morning's 6 o'clock Mass at St. Joseph's. At the end of services, he'd heard two parishioners talking. He knew they were horse players.
He remembered one of them that morning saying to the other, "Millersville. Fourth race at Laurel. Gotta get some money to put on him."
Father Droxler has a philosophy about funeral services. He does not like to belabor the tragic. He wishes to lift people's hearts with the amusing anecdote, the glad memory, the suggestion of a life well spent.
He had one personal memory of racetracks, of years ago, when a friend took him Aqueduct, handed him $50, and said, "Enjoy yourself."
For two races that day, Father Droxler merely watched the horses run. As the third race loomed, however, he noticed a horse would be running with a lovely name: Lord's Angel. Father Droxler said to himself, "Let me take a chance," and put $2 on what seemed to be a heaven-sent message.
Lord's Angel won and paid $80.
And now, at Hardesty's Funeral Home in Gambrills, the good father looked down again at the racing form in Carl Schneider's coat pocket. Fourth race at Laurel, he thought. Millersville, he thought. And, as he looked across the rows of mourners who'd come to say farewell to Schneider, Father Droxler began to talk about the things running through his head.
"You know," he told the mourners, "I don't know how the horses are running up in heaven. That's not my thing to say. And I didn't know Carl, but I understand by seeing the racing form that he was a fan."
A ripple of acknowledgment swept across the mourners.
"As it happens," said Father Droxler, "I have a hot tip on a horse which someone gave me. Called Millersville, at Laurel, the fourth race today. Wouldn't it be funny if we put alittle bet on that horse and it came in?"
The ripple of acknowledgment became a soft wave of laughter which lingered. And now, later that morning, after Carl Schneider had been laid to rest, his family went back to his home to sit for a while with his widow.
"Wouldn't it be funny," somebody said, "if we put a bet on that horse the father mentioned?"
"Yeah," somebody else said, "wouldn't it be funny?"
And, just like that, people started opening their wallets and somebody was putting all the money into a little pile until it reached about $60.
That afternoon, a couple of the men went over to Laurel. They saw that Millersville was a long shot. They saw that a horse named Home Run Harry was the favorite. They saw that another horse, named Eternal Charmer, was considered a pretty good bet.
They put their $60 on Millersville.
Millersville led wire to wire -- and paid $14.20.
Father Droxler heard the news the next morning.
Somebody telephoned to say that Millersville had won, and his little funeral tip had been worth about $400.
What he also heard was the thing that happened after the men got back to Carl Schneider's house from the racetrack.
They handed Ida Schneider the $400.
It was for Carl Schneider's last great day at the track.