By Frances Lowery Garner
As I write, this, I am now 72 years young, and I was trying to remember my very first experience with death or a funeral.
The one thing that stands out in my mind happened when I was probably five years old and my Daddy’s brother burned to death over in Georgia.
As the story goes, he had pneumonia and was confined to bed. The second wife left to go do an errand and locked the door behind her.
The bed caught fire, presumably from a cigarette, and he died from suffocation before anyone could come to his aid.
The wife wanted him brought back to the place of his roots to be buried by his father in the Sardis Cemetery.
So somehow it was arranged for his body to travel by train to the Greenville Depot, and was picked up and brought out to the Industry community where my family as well as his mother and old maid sister lived with us.
Uncle Madison had visited there on numerous occasions and his visits were always welcomed as he was a very jovial and fun loving person.
Being the younger brother, he was more by brother’s age than my Dad’s, so he was very close to our family.
This was the first time, in my memory, that he ever came empty handed.
He would usually come in laughing with maybe a bottle of wine for my dad and brothers or some little treat for us.
This time must have been very awkward for my Mom and Dad as they had not met his present wife as this had not been a long term marriage.
The wife came, accompanied by her younger sister, and stayed in our home until after the funeral.
The body was embalmed and the casket brought to our house as this was the custom before modern mortuaries came into being.
The funeral homes were usually connected to a hardware store (at least in Georgiana and Greenville) but no place for visitation or a funeral.
The big front bedroom, where my sister and I slept, was rearranged and the casket was place in there, of all places.
The casket remained open the entire time and I can vividly remember the wife viewing the body while my Dad held her up and uncontrollable weeping.
This was during World War II and I don’t remember how Mana managed all the cooking, sleeping arrangements, etc., but in those day folks made do with what they had and did not grumble.
I am sure there was a fire continually in the wood stove whether it was winter or summer and the cooking went on.
Our house was the gathering place for the other brothers and sisters of my Dad and there was always Sunday company, invited or otherwise and mostly otherwise.
My Mom must have had nerves of steel as I don’t ever remember her fussing about it unless company came in on wash day and that was a different story.
There was no time for cooking on wash day.
It is so nice today that we do have mortuaries where the body can be left unattended by family and a time of visitation is specified and also a place for the funeral if you desire.
This has eliminated the “setting up” and the obvious strain on the family of the deceased.
“Setting up” usually consisted of several men and possibly two females who would come into the home and actually keep vigil over the corpse all night.
They were fortunate to get a cup of coffee during the night because of the lack of electricity.
In the winter time, it could be made on the fireplace if the water got hot enough to boil or the lady of the house made some before she went to bed to be warmed.
Someone would remain with the body at all times until the funeral.
If an outsider did not come in to make breakfast, the family members had to get up and entertain those who had stayed all night.
I can just imagine how much sleep they got with other people in the home and a dead corpse to boot.
Dad used to tell tales of one particular family in the community that would hear of a death, hitch up his mules and wagon and stay with the family of the deceased for the duration to enjoy the cooking and eating in addition to getting his mules fed.
This could be a trying time, in my opinion.
I’m glad that part of the “good ole days” has gone.