In which "Sally Ann" becomes Prudy ...
She heard the commotion of a knock at the door almost immediately following Mother's death. Black friends, the Bailor's, were there to call on Mother. They had just learned of her illness and the Grandmother had come prepared to stay and help if needed. The Grandmother had acted as midwife during the birth of some of the children and the family had exchanged home visits many times. The timing of their visit was fortunate because their presence brought a feeling of orderliness and comfort to the distraught family. Here were friends who could help make decisions and give loving affection to the children and take them into their own home while arrangements necessary and beyond their understanding could be made.
What a flurry of activity then took place. The doors to Mom's room were again shut and the younger lady waited with us in the kitchen while the men moved Mom from the chair by the table to the couch. I thought at the time that they must not do that to her because she hurt so much and had such a difficult time breathing when lying down. But, common sense told me that you don't need to breathe when you are dead.
And so it was decided the girls would go with the black family that night. Dad sent word with them to call the "undertaker" from the nearest neighbors and to send for the snow plow. When they arrived at the neighbors, the Johnson's, it was decided to leave Eleanor and Sally there for the night. Mrs. Johnson insisted and the girls were promised they could return home as early in the morning as they wished. The three little sisters continued on to the home of the Baylor's, the black family. Eleanor and Sally wished they could have gone to the Baylor's too, because they knew there were children of the same ages there whom they had played with the previous summer. The Johnsons had no children and the girls could not understand their desire to keep them so unexpectedly. But, the girls were pleased. They had received much attention that evening -all the children had.
When they were tucked snugly into a big bed with the pretty coverlet, in the best guest room of the Johnson's nice house, they talked over everything that had happened that night. They intended to stay awake all night and kept the lamp lit, but when they awoke the next morning, they realized they had slept after all. Voices downstairs and breakfast smells got them out of bed immediately. They wanted to return home, but were persuaded to eat a good breakfast first. Before the meal was finished, their oldest brother, Frank, who had boarded where he worked, came and thanked the neighbors and took them home. He said Baylor'S would be bringing the other girls home, too.
Once back at the house, Sally was dismayed. For some reason she half expected to find her mother there. The living room was back in order, window shades raised, steam kettles put away. I went from room to room and looked in-half expecting, not wanting to believe that Mom really was not there. And she wasn't there. What had become of her? When an animal dies --a bird or cat or woodchuck, it lies there -you can see it. Later you can even see it in the decaying process. I had never heard of a person decaying at home, but they always died at home. Our neighbor two years earlier had died at home. Her children knew it and told of it at school. She had been sick for two years -a lot sicker than Mom and a lot longer, too. What happened to a person after they died? How do they get to Heaven if they can't move? Did the "undertaker" take her to his place? Why? I had to ask someone. What was it going to be like now? Mom was not here. She was "dead". Dead things didn't move by themselves. Something must happen to them because they aren't around. I concluded the undertaker had taken her.
Someone, or perhaps several people, contributed information in the next few days about the process of dying and funerals. My two brothers, and the neighbor children who had lost their mother, explained that the "undertaker" gets the dead person and dresses her up in her best dress and puts her in a "casket" for a "funeral" after which the person is then "buried." Well, I had seen a dog buried once and dogs had buried bones and we had played at burying treasure and digging up buried treasure, so burying wasn't a worry. What I wondered about was whether the person felt anything or not. I guessed not and wondered about the "funeral" which Dad said we all would go to. I was told I could see Mom at the "funeral" and she would be pretty in her best dress and she would look like she was asleep. I was also told that if I was going to cry that I wouldn't be allowed to go. Of course, I wanted to see Mom again even if she was dead and that I certainly would not cry.
I didn't know that a "funeral" meant going into a room full of people, and being seated right up front of everyone. We could look at the casket and at Mom lying there all the while the minister spoke. And I wasn't allowed to cry, but my brothers were, and my sisters were, and my grandmother and relatives were crying. I thought a funeral must be a real special occasion because we only saw those relatives once a year. But I kept my promise and looked at Mom in her pretty dress all the while the "funeral" was going on. While I sat there, I realized she was really a dead person, because she had never looked like that before. It was comforting to know that she hadn't "gone to Heaven" before the funeral and that I had a chance to see her again after that night when I had "kissed her for the last time."