This story continues my Tales from the Hayloft, but it’s really a tale about the “big city.” My mother’s parents lived in Rockford, Illinois when I was a kid living on the farm. Visiting them was exciting. It meant getting the Sunday paper with the comics section, which included the Brenda Starr comic strip with paper dolls to cut out. I loved paper dolls, especially the Brenda Doll dresses. They were so elegant, like nothing I’d ever seen anyone wear. Remember, this was a time when television wasn’t yet a part of our lives, so a ball gown was only seen in a newspaper or in one of the Hollywood magazines.
The other excitement when in the city was taking the bus downtown to shop with my grandmother. For a kid growing up on a farm at the edge of a Midwest village of less than 3000 people, a city like Rockford, the second largest in the state, meant stepping into a world of people, noises and shopping choices not available at home. We shopped by catalogue, at that time a slow process.
But it wasn’t a shopping trip with my grandmother that I best remember. Instead, it was attending a funeral. She read in the newspaper of the death of someone she knew from years aback and decided to attend the funeral. The services were scheduled on a Saturday, one of the days my parents had dropped me to stay with my grandparents for the weekend. A funeral didn’t sound to exciting to me, a kid of around six at the time, but I think Grandma promised me some treat, Or I could stay home with my grandfather who was a person totally lacking in humor and not fun to be around. The treat wasn’t necessary. I’d go anywhere with my grandmother. I loved her better than any of my relatives because she was infinitely patient with me, warm, loving and affectionate, and demonstrations of affection were rare in my family.
So away we went on the city bus , so exciting. We arrived at the funeral home in time to, as my grandmother said, “view the body.” I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to look at a dead body. I figured the practice must have been something only adults could understand. The room was filled with mourners. Grandma took my hand and led me to the casket. I don’t remember if I “viewed the body” but my grandmother did. And gasped. She grabbed my hand more tightly and dragged me quickly out of the room. Once back in front of the funeral home, she caught her breath and recovered herself.
“That wasn’t my friend,” she said. “I must have gotten the date wrong.”
I don’t remember if there was a treat before we headed back to her house or not, but I’m certain the same mistake had to have been made by others. I think that’s why funeral homes now post the name of the deceased outside the room. Still, the city always offered something out of the ordinary to a farm kid. I would have been just as thrilled to have paper dolls as a visit to the funeral home.
Don’t forget that the tractor make quiz is ongoing: How many different makes of tractors can you name made in the United States between 1940 and 1970? A free copy of Mud Bog Murder to the winner.