September 13, 2004

Dead like Thee

You could say I had an interesting childhood. While most children went to visit their parents in office buildings or perhaps at schools, I visited my father at a funeral home.

When I was a young child, my father, a funeral director, bought the funeral home he worked at from his boss. This was not just any funeral home, no, it was a funeral home that was actually inside a home-- a large, white Victorian-style place that was over 100 years old. The building had three floors: The first for business, the second consisting of an inhabitable apartment, albiet a sketchy one, and a smaller apartment-style room, while the third had another large apartment used basically for storage.

My father inhabited the second floor apartment for a while after my parents divorced, or at least, he gave the impression of doing so while he was already living somewhere else with my soon-to-be stepmother, which meant that me and my sister would live in this apartment every other weekend as well. Although it was not in horrible condition, this apartment was not the type of place you would want to find yourself in alone at nighttime, especially during bad weather when the ghosts and goblins that lurked outside in the Bad Side of Town would crawl through the large windows and under the creaky old bed.

The third floor, which had a large hole in the decrepit wooden floors, made the second one look like a palace. The third floor was the type of place a young girl did not venture to alone, not even a girl like me who had the run of the place since her Daddy owned it. You stayed away from the third floor because if the hole in the floor did not get you, some unidentified creature lurking in the musty shadows definately would.

I spent every other weekend and one month a summer in that funeral home with my dad and stepmother, biding the nine hours a day they worked by exploring. Old record keeping books became my playmates and I kept myself occupied by reading how exactly people died in that town in the 1940s and earlier.

If my stepmother was feeling overly friendly, I would get to indulge in my favorite activity: Bringing in the flowers from their holding room in the large garage to the adjoining chapel, where we would arange them around the casket. If she was feeling less friendly, my job would be to vaccum around the deceased person before the funeral started. Afterwards I would run up and down the chapel isles, indulging in any and every fantasy a 10-year-old girl could fathom, mostly about me being an entertainer and the pews full of my adoring audience. It didn't matter that a dead person lay only feet away from me in an open casket, no, I could be a Rock Star or Rockette without anyone bothering me in there.

Sometimes, if I was feeling a little adventurous, I would watch the person and hold my breath, just to see if they were really dead. It didn't matter that I knew the facts of embalming or that I witnessed plenty of dead people naked on the slabs in the morgue; I just had to see for myself.

My unique upbringing, along with the fact that I have known plenty of people who are now dead, has made me someone you do not want to go to a funeral with. I mentally critique things, even when I don't mean to. I ask questions to the funeral home staff, such as if they are owned by a large corporation or are they still independently owned? I note the locations of funeral homes near cemeteries and make chitchat about playing around in the casket showroom with those who really don't want to hear about it.

And then I tell my stories, such as the time my Dad locked me and my sister in a room with the body of a man who looked like Frankenstein. He only did it for a few seconds, but it was enough to scare us silly. Maybe I tell them how I remember being three-years-old and my Dad holding me up to see the body inside the casket because I wanted to see who was in there. Perhaps I tell them about how he used to pick me up from ballet class in a hearse and I would lay on the gurney, the same one the dead people lie on, in the back while he drove us home.

Or maybe I'll just offer a meek smile and a sympathy card along with a nice basket of flowers.

Posted by Rachel at September 13, 2004 04:51 AM | TrackBack

This is the most interesting thing I've read in a week.

Posted by: hugo at September 13, 2004 05:02 AM

This is a great read! I never would have guessed that you grew up in a funeral home! Creepy and yet fascinating all at the same time.

Posted by: Ali at September 13, 2004 04:18 PM

Loved this post!

Posted by: Lujza at September 14, 2004 05:30 PM

I KNEW funeral people horsed around!

Posted by: Auty at September 20, 2004 03:35 PM
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