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When I was fifteen, Mom told me that we were going to the funeral of her Great Aunt Mildred.

I never heard of Great Aunt Mildred. “Who? Are you kidding me?” I said.

“Jay, don’t give me a hard time,” Mom scolded. “We are going to pay homage to my grandmother’s sister.”

Dad interjected, “Homage means that you are going to put your rear-end in the car, and we are going to Kentucky.”

Well, since Dad put it that way, off we went in Dad’s new 1954 Ford Custom with a three speed on the column, a small block V-8, and no air conditioning for a six-hour drive in a sweltering July to the glittering small town metropolis of Paducah, Kentucky.

We arrived at the Paducah Southern Old Time Christian Church with my hair blown sideways because we drove with the windows down. Only Mom didn’t roll her window down as the wind would “mess-up” her hair. Consequently, before I entered the main dungeon, I went to the restroom to comb my hair and splash water on my face.

The restroom at the church turned out to be an in-house, outhouse. As I entered, I immediately knew it was July. Oh, my!

The Paducah Southern Old Time Christian Church was a single story building which seats about 125 parishioners. Because the church had no air conditioning, Great Aunt Mildred’s service featured elderly people demonstrating the proper technique for the use of the paper and popsicle stick hand fan.

 Suddenly, there arose a delicate murmur from the parishioners. From behind the altar, the Reverend James A. Pastoric, Bible in hand and sweat towel over his shoulder, made his way to the podium. Pastoric’s head was crowned by a humongous gaggle of red hair. The pile of red hair on top of his starched white robe made him look like a walking Olympic Torch.

Pastoric commenced. “There is nothing I can do for Sister Mildred. She has gone on to her eternal reward and resides in the house of the Almighty. Praise God! But for you sinners here before me, I bring you the word of God. You are condemned to burn in hell. Oh, yes! The Devil’s hell awaits you unless you repent. Confess your sins! Kneel before the altar of the Lord!”

The above theme, in one flavor or another, saturated the next hour of my life. Pastoric swiped his face with the sweat towel each time he referred to a “rain of fire and brimstone.” I don’t know what brimstone is. I did learn this day, the hard way, that brimstone causes profuse sweating. Perhaps people in an Episcopalian church perspire; but I am here to tell you, in the Southern Old Time Christian Church, they sweat brimstone bullets.

After an hour, Pastoric paroled we mourners, via a mandatory walk-by of the casket, for the drive to the cemetery. Great Aunt Mildred’s hands were frosty pale as was the color of her dress. Her face was ghost white except for silver dollar sized circles of red rouge on her cheeks. Each cheek looked like the national flag of Japan.

We joined the car caravan to the cemetery. We wormed around curves and meandering streams, crossed bridges and tracks until we stopped…in the middle of nowhere. I asked the man in the car behind us where the cemetery was. Without saying a word, he pointed to the top of a hill. The slope of that hill reminded me of a ski jumping ramp.

Dad commented that moving Great Aunt Mildred up the hill to the cemetery was not a “job for over-weight middle-aged beer drinkers,” but would require “two or three teams of young pallbearers.”

 The first six pallbearers started up the hill. They stopped after about fifty yards, lowered the casket to the ground, and moved the tallest conveyors to the rear of the casket to decrease the carry angle. There was no paved path to the cemetery so individual pallbearers would step on the uneven ground, and the casket would suddenly tilt.

After one hundred yards or so, the casket was put on the ground to bring on the second team. Before the subs got control, the casket started to slide down the hill. Only the quick reaction of a sub stopped it from becoming a sled. If it had been allowed to slide, many old people would have become bowling pins.

Eventually, the casket made it to the cemetery and set on the ground next to Great Aunt Mildred’s final resting place. The gloved grave diggers stood by while bearing solemn grave digger faces. The mourners formed a semi-circle around the casket.

Then Pastoric spoke. “Would anybody like to see Sister Mildred for the last time?”

“Yes, please yes,” pleaded Great Aunt Mildred’s oldest daughter.

“For God’s sake,” Mom whispered.

Pastoric opened the casket. There, lying on her side, lay a discombobulated Great Aunt Mildred. Her head had turned towards the assembled, and one of her eyes had popped open. The red rouge on her cheeks had melted, and was running down the side of her face and into the corner of her mouth. The front third of the upper plate of her dentures hung out of her mouth, exposing the tip of her tongue, which appeared to be oozing blood-like rouge.

There was an audible gasp from the assembled.

With her body precariously balanced on its side, Great Aunt Mildred suddenly pitched-over, causing her left arm to flop out of the casket.

Women screamed. I heard, “My God, she’s alive, she’s alive.”

The undertaker rushed forward. He grabbed Great Aunt Mildred’s arm and stuffed it back into the casket as he simultaneously shut the lid.

There was a shocked silence from the assembled. No one, including Pastoric, spoke. Without a further word, a small group of the mourners, having had enough (!) abruptly turned, and retreated down the hill. The remaining mourners followed the initial retreat in an amoeba-like blob formation. A few in the blob were teary-eyed, but most were in shock.

Mom, Dad, and I walked from the cemetery to our car without speaking a word. As Dad drove off, I heard Mom start to giggle. Then Dad started laughing. I joined in. Soon, we were hysterical. We couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt for three days.

All these years later, I continue to pay homage to Great Aunt Mildred when the memory of her funeral brings a smile to my face. Mom would like that.

 

Biography

Jay Hogan attended the funeral of Great Aunt Mildred, but what actually happened at the funeral is greatly exaggerated in his story. Exaggeration is an essence of writing. Yes? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

 

 

 

 

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