Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Grandma's Story, 1916


House on Diamond Ave, Hillyard (now Spokane), which served as a Smith undertaking parlor


DuRell Smith and sister Bernice Adams Smith

Halloween is over and Veteran’s Day, formerly Armistice Day is coming up, so thought I’d share a bit more of my grandmother’s autobiography. After her biological father died, her mother married Mr. L.D. Smith, son of a wealthy ranch owning family. After the Washington ranch was sold, grandma was sent away to a Catholic boarding school for a bit, then brought back to Hillyard, where Smith and Company owned a funeral home. This is where the story resumes.

“That fall we moved back to Hillyard, where Smith and Co. had an undertaking parlor, with living quarters attached. It was good to be back. The McClain girls still lived there and our friendship picked up where it left off. They were impressed with our big colonial house with its tall white pillars and hanging baskets. Living there had drawbacks for me, however. I hated the embalming room, the casket room and the funeral services, often held in our living room. I never got over having bodies in our house, and I hated sleeping next to the casket room.

One night Evelyn McClain was spending the night with us. We had just turned out the light and settled down to sleep when a horrible moaning started coming from the casket room. We dived under the covers but nothing shut out the unearthly sounds, getting louder. We screamed at the tops of our lungs, and my folks came running to see what was going on. They opened the door of the casket room and found Agnes McClain in one of our best caskets, howling her head off. She sang a different tune by the time Mother finished with her. My folks weren’t upset about Evelyn and me being scared half to death, but they were very upset about the damage Agnes did to the white satin casket lining. She still had on her shoes.

My life had settled down to a fairly normal routine. I went to school, enrolled in Sunday School. I was in eighth grade that fall. Mother was pregnant by then and being a proper Victorian lady didn’t want to be seen in public. We took long walks at night down the darkest streets, and if we met people we knew we pretended not to know them. All this seems unbelievable now, but Mother was an uptight lady. Durell was born just before Christmas, December 16, 1916. I fell in love with him which surprised me very much. I had never been around babies and I didn’t expect to be impressed. I enjoyed taking care of him and soon learned to bathe and diaper him. . .

My stepfather had a job with Smith and Co. as long as he wished, but it wasn’t a job he intended to keep. After Durell was born my stepfather became more unhappy with his work. He dreamed of becoming a doctor, but it took a tremendous amount of money. His pride wouldn’t let him ask his folks for help. After all they had paid his way through two colleges and two professions he never used. He had a degree in marine architecture, and I don’t know what the other was. Applications were sent out to several medical schools and Marquette Medical School in Milwaukee was the one he chose.

A family conference was called that his realization of being a doctor would only be possible if we all made sacrifices. He could find enough extra work for himself, but we would be more or less on our own financially. Mother could go back to work in practical nursing and housekeeping, and I would stay at various homes where I would work for room and board. It sounded to me like Mother and I were going back to the days after we left my father, only now we had a baby to care for. I was twelve years old. I thirteenth birthday would be that next October, after enrolling in high school.

We left for Milwaukee at the end of August. I was not happy to be leaving Hillyard. I had not liked the undertaking parlor, but for the first time since Mother left Father I was living a normal life. We had a lovely house with a bathroom, running water and electricity. These conveniences were like miracles to me after living on the ranch. I liked going to Sunday School and spending eighth grade with more than one student in my class. I had made friends and gotten to know and love Father’s relatives in Fairfield. I was afraid I’d never see them again. I was afraid what the future held, and as it turned out, I had a right to be.

1 comment:

frenchfryedfreud said...

Great as ever with an ominous 'teaser' ending no less.
Can't wait for the next installment :)