Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Life Less Ordinary

Toward the end of last summer I began to walk for exercise with a neighbor ("K")whom, prior to our daily walks, was simply a nice woman that said hi to me from time to time. There's nothing like walking for an hour or two at a clip to accelerate a relationship. We know practically everything about each other now, and she's turned out to be a wonderful friend.

Still, as we walked yesterday she revealed something in passing that I couldn't believe we hadn't talked about previously: Her father was a mortician and she grew up living in the family's funeral home. Having been a huge fan of HBO's "Six Feet Under", I was fascinated and had a million questions to ask her.

What became quickly evident though, was that the show had barely touched upon the more horrific aspects of this life for a small child. K told me that because her father was a large man, his hands were too beefy to manage the bodies of tiny infants...some of whom had died at birth. Her job as a little girl was to dress them and place them into their caskets. In one case, a set of triplets didn't make it past their second day of life, and she had to wriggle their limp bodies into soft gowns and arrange all three in one box.

Many of her childhood days were spent sitting at the top of the stairs that led down to the chapels, listening to people arrive and to the anguished sounds as they were swallowed up by their grief. Her grandmother would scoop her up and take her to the kitchen to make cookies, never acknowledging or explaining the life events taking place on the first floor.

Although she has no memories of this particular event, the family talked for years about the day that they found little K sitting in a rocking chair, singing to a baby that she had removed from its casket. Without a word, her grandmother simply lifted the baby from her arms, placed it back into the box, and happily asked if they should make oatmeal or chocolate chip today.