Chivalry is not a dead commodity in the funeral industry. “Yes Mamn, No Mamn, Yes sir, No sir.” are standard operating procedures. Widows are always under escort by the funeral directors, and a feel of formality abounds. Catching every detail and making it perfect is what separates a good funeral director from the run of the mill.
Customarily, families will use the same funeral home to bury though out generations of deaths in their clan. It is a mark of honor for some people to have the patriarch of the funeral home speak to their family on a first name basis, and know some of the dynamics of that family, simply by recalling prior dealings.
The oldest funeral director in our funeral home was the son of the original owner. His reputation in town was impeccable, and the whole of the staff, especially me, loved him deeply. As age became a factor in his ability to work, he gradually retired. The director, now in his late eighties would only come in to the funeral home if one of his old cronies had asked for him, and even then we had to keep our eye on him, just in case.
A retired clergyman in our town had passed on, and the Mrs. Reverend wanted nobody but the aged undertaker at her side. They were contemporaries in age and had gained a mutual respect for one another through the years, as one had served the living of a congregation, and the other had served the dead. The widow was a short round lady. She was a typical preachers wife, quiet in demeanor, but strong in conviction. The two were inseparable during calling hours. As the crowd of callers filed by the widow, her director was ever present at her side. During a slow down in the on slot of visitors the widow decided she wanted a break, and would like to have a cup of coffee in the lounge upstairs. The older mortician begged her to take the elevator to the next floor but to no avail, she was “fine going up the steps” and that was that. After helping each other up the steps to the coffee room, the two shared stories of the old days over a cup of ‘Joe’. Once finished he urged her once again to use the elevator, but she just would not think of it, “she could walk down steps just fine still.”
As the couple started down the red carpeted steps it was not quiet clear who was helping who down, but is was very clear neither wanted any help from anybody. It was then when the older gentleman uttered what some folks call’ famous last words.’ “ Just hang on to me hon.’, I got ya’” and with that down the steps he came. It was bad enough for him to fall down the steps, what added insult to potential injury was the fact he pulled Mrs. Reverend down the steps with him. It did not take the two long to reach the bottom of the steps as they grabbed hold tight to one another forming an “elderly snowball” of sorts. All was well at the bottom of the steps; the older director was helped to his feet with nothing hurt but his pride. The preachers wife was unhurt, however the muted floral print dress she was wearing, she was now wearing around her neck. For what ever reason I, up to that point, had always figured everybody wore underwear. This was not the case for Mrs. Reverend as she was sprawled out on the main foyer floor exposing to the masses what a good Baptist butt should really look like.
Quickly her daughters helped her to her feet and rearranged her outfit, the hall filled with bright red faces, none redder than the undertaker’s. One of the daughters laughed nervously and quietly and asked her mother in a whisper “Momma? Don’t you wear any underpants?” The mother answered matter of factly, “Why no darlin’, do you?”