Both of my grandmothers died within a couple of months of each other when I was five. I don’t have extensive memories of them.
I know that my interest in ancestry is associated with their passing. They were there and they were gone. Is that what happens to grandmas?
We were eating breakfast when the call came about my mom’s mother. We were just going to have dinner when the call came about my dad’s mother.
After the second death, I remember asking my mother if her grandparents had disappeared the same way. Her answer involved stories of her grandparents and stories that my father had told her about his ancestry. The hook was set. I had to know more about them.
I knew that my first grandmother was gone because I’d seen her lying in her casket and she wasn’t talking or moving. Not understanding all of the ramifications of death, I remember sitting through her funeral thinking “That’s interesting.”
When my second grandmother died, I had experience with this death and funeral thing. My parents didn’t have to sit me down and explain how death works.
Grandma lay in her casket, family member greeted visitors who queued in line to express their sympathy and pay respect to grandma. I was told to sit quietly, “Over there.” Now, in my opinion, there wasn’t a need for a little shaver to sit quietly on a chair in the corner for hours, so I didn’t.
It didn’t take much skill to quietly move in the ‘shadow’ of the large lady who was exiting the room. Everyone was talking and the folks in line were looking toward the family greeting line, secretly wishing the line would move faster and thinking about the exact wording they’d express when it was finally their turn to greet and shake hands. No one saw my exit.
Free of the boredom of quietly sitting still, I continued to be quiet and strolled through the darkened offices of the mortuary. There wasn’t anything in them of much interest. I remembered a wide stairway that when down to some double oak doors. I had asked mom what was down there when we’d entered the building and she told me to “Don’t go down there.” “That’s not a place for kids.”
She may as well have told me that Santa was at the bottom giving away Red Ryder BB-guns and five pound sacks of candy.
Checking the scene for adult eyes watching me, I ducked under the red velvet ropes and quickly made my way down the cranberry colored carpeted on the stairs.
The doors on the bottom landing had rows of vertical beveled glass windows in them that were just high enough that I could only see through them if I stood on my toes and hung on to the brass door handles for balance.
White semi-sheer drapes blocked the view into the lighted room beyond. Frustration.
And then … I spotted a place where the drapes didn’t quite meet. Squirming, stretching, I got eye level barely higher than the bottom mullion. I could see in.
A white haired woman was lying on a table. She was covered by a white sheet and her face was slightly tipped toward me.
It was a dead lady! Oh man!
I focused on her face for a minute wondering whose grandma she was …. when her left eyelid started to open. “Nah. It was just my imagination” I thought, and then her left arm fell down and out from under the sheet.
Newton’s laws of gravity were defeated that evening. I really don’t think I touched any of the stairs on the way up.
I know I went between the suit-clad legs of a man standing in line, but my passage was so quick he probably didn’t realize what had just happened.
The memorial room wasn’t as boring this time. The chair in the corner was inviting, even comfortable. I didn’t tell my parents of my adventure.
You know the rest of the story…. That’s how I learned to not go down the stairs in mortuaries.