Saturday, August 30, 2008


I was ten years old before I saw a dead body. The summer after mom's crack-up when Aunt MK came and took care of us, NC and I went back to the Blue Ridge Mountains for the summer. MK lived in a coal mining town and it was surrounded by hollars where moonshiners reigned freely. Chickens wandered in and out of the shanty houses, and pigs lived beneath. When we drove back into a hollar to collect kids for Sunday night services at the little Bible church, the roads were so narrow that we would extend our arms and collect leaves and flowers.

Somebody died. A newborn baby. I don't remember whether girl or boy, but the mommy was very, very young and overwhelmed with grief. I had never been taken to a funeral, but MK and MD didn't think twice. The wake was in the grandmother's home and HORROR of HORRORS the infant baby was laid out on a buffet in the dining room--unembalmed! I had nightmares for weeks. I quickly exited and found much to do on the porch and in the yard.
A few days later an older man or woman died. I never left the car. It was years before I could or needed to go to a funeral or wake or visitation and I went with great trepidation. My friend's brother was killed in a bar fight and neither the body nor the family was on display. They were sequestered away while the guests listened to a minister [my mom's crush from years before] give a tribute to a young man he didn't know and an exotration to the living toward a clean and godly life.
Then a good friend's mother died and I had to go again. A sad story and a timely end. Death was easier this time. This funeral became a long running family story. Not to dishonor her life, but for some reason when my sisters and I would see each other after a time away, one or the other of us would ask, "Did you hear that Ruth Smith died?"

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