Thursday, January 22, 2015


By Beatrice M. Hanson

   After Grandpa sold out his property, house, barns and farmland, he moved to another state with his second wife. The first Mrs. Mellen passed away some time before.
   As time passed we heard less and less from papa's father.
   I remember the first and only time he visited his son. It was soon after we moved to our new home. Thereafter papa seldom heard from him until the day he received a letter from his step-mother informing him of his father’s death. Grandpa was in his eighties at the time. She wrote that he had left a desire to be buried in the Village Cemetery in the town he had lived in for many years. Of course Papa and Mother agreed that the funeral should take place in our home and accordingly prepared for it.
   To we youngsters it seemed a frightening and awesome experience, never having seen a dead person before in our young lives.
   I lost no time, however, in getting my playmates together to inform them of this happening. I felt important, indeed, when my friends stared back at me, their eyes big as lollypops! A home funeral was strange to them.
I knew they would be watching our house behind the wire fence when the time came.

   The following day Grandpa's body arrived by train and was picked up at the depot by the town's undertaker and driven to our side of town. The long black funeral car with its curtained back windows drove in the drive­way at three o'clock. The undertaker and his helper opened the doors to slide out a walnut stained box and carried it to the front door already opened to receive it. The box was then maneuvered into position to rest in one corner of the parlor. The undertaker, alone in the room, opened the lid to expose Grandpa's face, lifting him up to a semi-reclining position.
The floral pieces making a cascade of blooms, almost covered the small wizard like face of Grandpa as he lay beneath them.
   Before the immediate family arrived, Mother was busy with the business of preparing to remake the beds with clean linens for the out of town quests who would spend the night with us.
   There came a discussion of adjustment of bed-fellows. Four of my sisters would share one bedroom leaving their own for relatives. Papa and Mother would move downstairs to the summer bedrooms thus leaving their big bed to others. When the debate came to the sharing of my small room, I put up a fuss to keep my own bed. When the squabble grew stronger, Mother interrupted, "Oh, let her keep her own room to herself," she said, which ended that argument. I stuck my tongue out as I passed my sisters in retaliation for their part in the dispute.
   The family guests arrived to take the chairs Mother had placed around the parlor, to pay their last respects to Grandpa, before the funeral.
   Shortly thereafter Mother called for all to return to the bright cheerful family-room for hot pots of tea and cold sandwiches and pastry.
The men folks found their way to the kitchen to smoke their pipes and talk of old times. We girls found it more interesting to watch the ladies delicately sipping their tea and munching on the chicken sandwiches. Every time the plate of pastry passed our noses we quickly snatched one. It was interesting too to listen to some of the women relating the sad times of their own deceased. One woman told how her husband’s body fell back in his casket frightening everyone out of their wits. Another guest, with a quick glance at us kids, covered it over by saying it was not unusual for dead bodies to "slump" sometimes.
   I dashed to hide behind the ruffled curtains to see if my friends were watching the house. Four pairs of eyes were peeking out from the rose covered fence. I felt satisfied they believed my story and were curious enough to watch.
   After their lunch, the ladies carried out the tea things while others washed, dried and laid the crockery back on the shelf.
   It was getting toward evening and the guests reminded Mother of the long journey they had had that day. All desired to get a good night’s rest.

   Soon the upstairs was alive with closing doors as they made their prepar­ations for bed. Lights were gradually extinguished and soon all was dark and quiet.
   The bed-clothes in my room had been turned down. Getting into my night dress it was evident that I alone faced the long black stairway with the parlor and its occupant just around the corner. I asked myself, “should I close my door”, thereby imprisoning myself should Grandpa's Spirit decide to ascend the stairs, or by leaving the door open suggest an invitation to my room as it moved to the upper hall. Panic struck at my heart! Tip-toeing past the yawning black stairs I knocked softly at my sisters door. When they retired they bolted the door behind them. I knocked harder. "Go to bed”, I heard one whisper. “You wanted your own room use it”. Still I stood rooted to their door whimpering like a lost puppy. “Oh, all right,” Aileen spoke up, pattering across the floor to open the door, "but you’11 sleep on the bottom of the bed, so there". I crawled in between pairs of legs and feet, feeling only the sense of security in being near the warm and the living.
Soon I slept.

   Morning came with the sunshine pouring in through the window. My fears of the night before dissolved as though they had never been.
   Doors were opening while the guests took turns in the bathroom to wash and refresh themselves for the day ahead. The smell of percolated coffee penetrated the upper story.
   On my way downstairs I stopped at the parlor door to look in again at Grandpa. Always a kind man, it seemed to me now, how silly of me to have any fears regarding him. No doubt his Spirit was already heavenward. He lay peacefully, unaware of any life around him. I took the courage, then, to look down upon him and touched his hand remembering all the pleasant years we spent as small children on his beautiful pastures.
   Breakfast over with, the family sat around the room reminiscing of the days when all were young and together and the innocent pleasures of their youth.

   The minister arrived to give a short sermon and to offer a prayer for Grandpa. The family filed out while the undertaker, with a sober expression, shut the lid and the casket was again returned to the funeral car to be transported to the cemetery for burial.
   We children were not allowed to go. I believe Mother thought we should get out into the fresh air to play with our friends and forget sad events.
   It was, however, a long time before we cared to sit in the parlor. Never popular anyway, it was less so for a long time afterward.