Going Down the Road with a Hearse and a Crematorium

It’s been just over a year since I visited with my niece, Becca, in Colorado. It was a pleasant day. Melanie was there as well. We had lunch and then we had ice cream. What a great memory. Doesn’t she look happy?

Then she shared with me that she was considering going back to school to study mortuary science. This means she has an interest in becoming a funeral director! What fun! It does run in the family. My Dad was a funeral director for Memphis Funeral Home. Have I shared this before? I also worked at Memphis Funeral Home when I was working on my bachelor’s degree at Memphis State University. This was the funeral home that buried Elvis Presley which remains my closest brush with greatness to this day.

Well, somewhere on Facebook I saw a link with a Funeral Museum in Vienna, Austria that sold Lego kits that represented various aspects of the funeral business. And, of course, being the self respecting Aunt that I am, I wanted to share this with Becca. Just in case you are wondering and don’t speak German, a Leichenwagen is a Hearse. Now, I haven’t exactly shared it with Becca yet, but as soon as I mail these two packages to her, then I will have officially shared. And if she reads this blog, all of the surprise will be gone. Except for the fact that she will have to assemble it herself. There are many pieces and picture directions and lots of German which neither she nor I speak. More fun!

Ordering these items from the Vienna Funeral Museum was quite the process. Much of their website is in German, because they are located in Austria. The cost for these items was listed in euros. I have many friends who have traveled all around the world, but I have not. I have never paid for anything in euros, but lucky for me, PayPal is good at converting dollars to euros so this American didn’t have to stretch her brain too far. In the process I emailed the Museum a couple of times and communicated with an Erich and a Helga who were most helpful in assisting me with the order. Google helped by providing lots of translations between German and English. The order was placed, dollars converted, the package left Austria and landed in America in about two days.

Then the package sat in customs. Then it sat somewhere in New York. Then the package sat in New Jersey. It only took about a month to get from New York to New Jersey. Was Customs building a file on me? I still don’t know.

Once the package left New Jersey, it made it’s way to Houston within a week and was out for delivery. But Oh No!!! There was a problem with the address. It was not delivered. If I didn’t act soon, it would have been sent back to sender. I went to the Post Office and at last was handed the package that had journeyed for so long to find me.

Now all that is left is sending the package on to Becca. Hopefully I will send it sometime this week and not let it sit here for a month like the Customs office. I hope I haven’t completely ruined the surprise by revealing all in this blog, but as I said before, there is the process of assembly.

It’s not every Aunt that will look forward to sharing hearses and crematoriums with her niece. I am very proud to be just such an Aunt. Happy Birthday, Becca!

Until next week.….

Death Becomes Me.……and Her!

I’m currently reading a very interesting book. It’s called Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. Morbid? Maybe. But interesting. So interesting that I also plan on reading another book by the same author called, From Here To Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death.

Many people who know me are aware that I have a bit of a history with the funeral industry. To begin with, back in Memphis, Tennessee, my maternal relatives owned a complicated array of businesses including a funeral home. My mother worked at this funeral home until she met and married my father who was a funeral director. Over the years I knew the people at this funeral home well enough that they gave me a part‐time job when I was working on my undergraduate degree at the University of Memphis where I majored in Social Work.

No, I was not allowed anywhere near the dearly departed. I answered a PBX machine and directed phone calls wherever they needed to go. Yes, there were a few odd phone calls along the way. No, I told the nice lady who called and asked, we don’t sell used dentures.

Did I mention this was Memphis Funeral Home. You think you have never heard of it, but you have. This was the funeral home that buried Elvis Presley. My one celebrity claim to fame. No, I never met Elvis and I did not work there while his funeral service took place. Elvis died in 1977 and I worked the PBX machine in 1978.

It was an interesting place to work. The people who work in funeral services have very unique talents. They work with the dead and grieving all day long. They counsel and they listen. It takes a special person to do this.

After graduation I moved to Houston and worked for a funeral corporation. Since I had a Social Work degree and the job placed me in the Accounting Department, I only stayed there about four months.

When I was getting my Masters degree in Social Work from the University of Houston, I had an internship for two semesters with a local hospice. Part of my qualifications included the fact that I had experience with the funeral industry and would be comfortable around death.

Later as an employee for local government, I documented the history of County Poor Farms and Cemeteries. This document can still be found within the Harris County Archives and there is a historical marker in the County Cemetery.

As a Social Worker I often worked in areas that many people find uncomfortable, but I found most comfortable. Today I find all this to be very valuable experience in my new career as a Writer.

Last June when Melanie and I made the road trip to Colorado, we visited my niece who works at a Denver Bookstore. We ate lunch at a restaurant called “Linger”. This restaurant is housed in a historical building that used to be a mortuary.

We both share an affinity for Halloween. She is her own unique and interesting person and it has been wonderful to get to know her as a 20‐something adult.

Imagine my surprise when Becca texted me to let me know that this fall she was going back to school to study Mortuary Science. I asked her if I had been a bad role model for her, but if I was then I was a darn proud bad role model!

Becca has two years of studies ahead of her, but she is very bright and very smart. I can’t wait to see how this next chapter in her life turns out. I will remain “a proud bad role model” and support her any way I can.

Until next week.….