Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Mystery of Agnes - Solved

I know I posted this picture before. All Grandma wrote on the back of the photo was "Agnes." I asked my aunt who Agnes was, and she thought Agnes was a friend, but didn't know any more. Then tonight as I was typing the tape Grandma made for me in 1994, I heard her talk about Agnes McLean. You just wait.

This is the house on Diamond Ave in Hillyard, now part of Spokane, she describes in the tape. When we visited in May we drove all over trying to find the place, and I think we did. This is an old photo of the time it was one of the Smith undertaking parlors. There was a much larger one in downtown Spokane, but this one served Hillyard, which was more working class.

Here is what I typed.

Carol: Tell about when you were in the hospital when you had - what was it? Scarlet fever?
Or what was it? And about how they didn’t tell Grandma Smith what it was.

Well, I think that’s in my autobiography, but when I was going to school in Milwaukee, both DuRell and I came down with scarlet fever. I got it first. Probably I passed it on to him and being that we were in the hospital with a lot of other people, so they quarantined the whole house. If we stayed there, but we had to move to the isolation hospital. And, I never saw my mother again from the day I went in that hospital until eight weeks later when they finally let me come home.

My brother got better but I developed heart disease and they didn’t think I was going to live. I can barely remember being put down at the end of the long corridor where they put those who die, and having a sheet wrapped, turned around all of my bed so that nobody could see me. And of course we were not allowed visitors, but my father would come up with the doctor because he was a junior doctor,. I guess by then he was an intern, so they would allow him to come up once in a while. But all the time Mother was calling and asking about me they would tell her, “As good as can be expected, as good as can be expected.” And she thought that meant I was getting well.

Well, she went to the dime store one day and she met one of the doctors and he had met her socially with Dr. Smith, so he knew her. And he walked up to her and shook her hand, and she in the course of the conversation she very casually asked him how I was, because DuRell had gone home quite a while before this. He had gotten over it and went home. And he said, “Well,” and he put his hand on her arm, and he said, “We think maybe we can save her now. We have hopes that she will...”

and Mother said everything got black and she thought was going to hit the floor. She grabbed a hold of the nearest counter and she said “What are you talking about?”

And he said, “Well, it has been several weeks and we haven’t known if she was going to live or die.” But he said “Now she is getting better.” and that was the first she knew of it or heard of it. And I had wondered all this time why I never heard anything from her, in any way shape or manner. But of course we couldn’t get any word through either. And Dr. Smith wasn’t about to tell her.

But it all ended all right. I came out with a bad heart, and I’ve had one all my life, and I’m still here, so I guess it doesn’t matter. I have a pacemaker, and also a patch, a nitrogen patch,. But I’m still here. I think my long life is due to my ancestry, because I come from the Adams family on my father’s side, and his brothers all lived long long lives. My aunts and uncles were into their late 90s, some were over 100 before they died, which was very unusual in those days when there were no antibiotics or anything to keep people healthy. So I think I inherited some of those genes. I don’t know why else I’d be here today, at 92.

Carol: She asks here about jokes and tricks. I remember you telling about DuRell and some flowers. Didn’t DuRell paint some flowers or something?

Oh yes.

Carol: What was that?

When we were in Troy, we lived at the cherry orchard, that belonged to the Dewitt family. And they - the boys - had kind of a flower garden out in the front lawn. And it had lilies in it. Some kind of, variety of lilies that I didn’t know anything about. And over night they got painted. Beautiful colors, pink and red and green, every color there was. And the boys were not too appreciative of it. They were very upset because they were their prize lilies. And they found out that Durell had found some paint out in the barn, and had decided to liven them up a little bit, so he painted them. But he wasn’t very popular around the Dewitt place after a while.

Carol: I think DuRell was a little spoiled,

Yes, he always liked pretty things,

Speaking of jokes...

Carol: Go on, tell us some more.

Speaking of jokes. this practical joke I didn’t commit, but it was played on me when we lived in Hillyard in the undertaking parlor. My step grandparents owned a very large undertaking parlor in Spokane. Hillyard was a suburb of Spokane, and we had the Hillyard, suburb, undertaking parlor. Well, two things happened there that were very weird.

The first one was when we moved the fat man out of the embalming room. Mother called me from school and had me come home to help her because she had gotten a call, an emergency call, from Dr. Smith that the wife of the man, or the corpse, who was in the embalming room, was coming to visit him. And he was in no position to be visited. So we had to get him into the living room, out of the embalming room, and that was quite a chore. There was a step there, where you had to step up. And oh yes, I said I was equal to the occasion, I was strong, I was strong as mother was, and we could do it. So come to find out, he was quite a heavy man, and sort of round in the stomach. And we put a sheet over him, and we pulled him out as far as the porch, this was the back porch of course, not the front, and we had to turn him around, and lift one side of him so we could get him into the door that went to the undertaking parlor living room where they showed the caskets and had the funerals. So we started to lift him up and he started to roll. And we wanted to grab him, hold him, but it was terrible. We thought we were going to lose him for sure, over the sidel, and both of us somehow or other we managed and we got him back into the room. And then we tried to put the sheet over him, because we couldn’t dress him. It was impossible for us to lift him him and put clothes on him, so we improvised. We put the sheet over him and used his arms to hold the sheet down, because it kept sliding off his stomach. And then we improvised and we decided we had to put something around his neck and chin because his top part looked so bare. So we got a pillow case, and draped it around his top and tucked it under his shoulder blades, and then just his bare arms stuck out holding the sheet on. So we straightened everything all up, and we decided he didn’t look too bad, and we waited for his folks to come. And they were coming in the front door when we were putting the sheet around his shoulders, and we had to explain the reason he wasn’t dressed was because we couldn’t dress him, But they were very nice about it, and that ended. But I have never never forgotten moving that corpse.

Carol: Wasn’t there a story about a casket and the lining...

Oh yes, yes. That was my two best friends. One of them was two years older than I was, They were the McLeans, who had a little house in Hillyard when we were married to my father. When we were married to my father, that’s the way I always thought of it.

I had two best friends. And they were the McLean girls, that lived next door. So when we came back married to Dr. Smith and running the funeral parlor, they were delighted to come a visit me. And the first place they wanted to go was the casket room, So we showed the caskets, and they were very pretty all lined and soft looking, and the girls were very impressed. Well, Agnes was supposed to go home that night for supper, but Evelyn was going to spend the night with me. She was the one my age. So we had a very nice meal and we talked til late at night, and finally we turned the light out. And we hadn’t gotten to sleep,, and we heard this terrible - we were talking about the casket room, and Eveylyn said she would not like to sleep next to it. She wasn’t sorry that she lived in a big house because she would not like to live right next to a casket room.

“Oh,” I said, “there’s nothing to it.”

With that we commenced to hear moans and groans, horrible ones, from the casket room. I said, “Oh, that’s just the wind blowing.”

“No, no it isn’t, Evelyn said. “ That’s no wind. It doesn’t sound like wind to me.”

And they kept on going, and then she started to scream, And she screamed at the top of her life, and of course it woke up Mother and Dr. Smith. And they came in and said “Well we’ll see what’s going on next door.”

So they opened up the door and walked in and found Agnes in one of the caskets, roaring and groaning and moaning to beat the band. Well, she got out of there in a hurry, and she got sent home in a hurry. And she was told to never darken the door of that casket room again. But Agnes was always full of tricks. If you were around her very long you got yourself into trouble, or she got you into it, one or the other.


Charlene Brown said...

Good for you, Sherry, taking the timee to document your grandmother's reminiscences. In our family, we're lucky that one of my sisters put together a similar record with our grandmother -- back in the early seventies without benefit of a computer and internet storage -- which we appreciate more and more as the years go by.

Margaret Ann said...

What a wild story...Ahhh Agnes...OHHH! What a memory. :)