These probably aren’t the words most parents want to hear coming from their child, but mine heard them and I was… yes, dead serious.
Rewind to the late 1970s. Disco was hot. Hair bands were everywhere. Anne Rice and Stephen King were on the upswing and thanks to my grandmother, I’d gotten a Ouija board for my 13th birthday instead of the stack of horror books I’d picked out. No joke, kids. Gramma had told me to go pick out whatever I wanted in the store for my birthday present. I picked books. Gramma said, and I quote, “Oh, you don’t want those scary things. Let me show you what you should get.” and she marched me right back to the games aisle and picked up good old William Fuld’s Ouija Board. I really wanted the books more but who’s gonna argue with Gramma? We got the board out that night, Grampa sat nearby shaking his head and rolling his eyes at the foolishness of it all.
I don’t remember what, if any, results we got but from that point on my interest in such things grew even more serious and intense. This was the same Gramma who told me my first remembered true ghost story from her personal experience and the same Gramma that ignored those No Tresspassing signs and found a place for me to sneak into an abandoned house (or two) and unlock the door from the inside so she could get in, too and the one who dragged me from one cemetery to the other. And my parents thought all Gramma and I ever did together was go to yard sales! BAH! Is it any wonder I am the way I am?? Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you!
So, here I am 13 or so, heading into High School and of course, they want you to start thinking about your future. What do you want to do with your life? College? Work? Trade School? Hm? Make up your mind. No rush, you have four years before you graduate. You all know the drill. I was under pressure man and being as I had all this experience with spooky stuff, thanks to Gramma, I got the notion in my head to become a funeral director. How hard could it possibly be? Cemeteries didn’t bother me. Dead people weren’t any big deal, right?
We had a school assignment to investigate what we’d need to do to pursue a possible career path, this included interviewing people already in that occupation. This lead to the call to the funeral home. I dare say they’d never gotten a phone call like mine before then and probably not after. I could be wrong. The funeral director, let’s call him Dave – because – well, that’s his name – was happy to oblige. We set up an appointment and folks, I got the behind the scenes tour, embalming room and all. Yep… that was special, but even then I was not deterred. Nay! I would not be swayed by any of what he showed me… until…
“What sort of schooling do you have to have to do this?”
Science? What do you mean science? Human anatomy? Practically a doctorate! Gonna need some math in there too so you know how much fluid the body is going to need. Plus a two year apprenticeship. I don’t want to be a doctor, man. I just wanna take care of dead bodies. Can’t I just dress in black and hang around corpses and caskets and console people and that sorta stuff? Apparently not. Ah well, at least I got a good grade on the paper and I’ll betcha my teacher never got another one quite like it!
And so ended my career dreams as an undertaker. Knowing Funeral Director Dave would come in real handy a few years down the line when he kindly furnished the limo that was used when I was married for the first time in 1989 – free of charge!
I did manage to portray the wife of a 19th century – US Civil War – undertaker for several years while I was a reenactor. That was fun. Grossing people out as we described putting needles in people’s necks and inner thighs and draining off the blood to make room for the fluid (not formaldehyde – cuz that wasn’t invented until after the War). We met very few others of our kind on the battlefield. And this time I did get to dress in black and hang out around a coffin and pretend at least to write consoling letters to the bereaved.
Now, I find myself writing about undertakers a lot. My current book, ‘That’s What Shadows Are Made Of” features a murdered undertaker. And, I should add, I made another call to that same funeral director with some research question on it. The novel just released in February has a funeral home scene and the forth-coming ghost story features both! I don’t want to be an undertaker when I grow up anymore – I’ll just write weird stuff about them instead. It’s probably a lot more fun and I’ve never had to use algebra to do it!