macabre memories

In 1979, the church in which I grew up met in a funeral chapel. This didn't strike me as odd; I had never known anything different. And I wasn't yet old enough for unnerving experiences such as my brother had several years later, when someone had left the door to the casket display room ajar, and the toddler, not being tall enough to see that they were all empty, was faced with a room full of open caskets just off of the empty playroom.

In any event, it was generally a good arrangement all around. A funeral chapel bears a closer resemblance to a church sanctuary, with less work in transforming the space, than just about any other space a fledgling church could hope to rent week-to-week. (I remember the space being much larger than the funeral chapels I have seen as an adult, but perhaps I was just much smaller. In any event, there was plenty of room for our small congregation.) And as Sunday mornings are far from prime time for funerals, it was a steady revenue stream for our hosts in what would otherwise be (please pardon the horrible pun) dead time.

At first, the young pastor, my father, would personally attend to setting the space ready for our use. The work was generally minimal, but if there had been a funeral or viewing the previous evening, he would have to do some straightening up and possibly even wheel an occupied casket out of the chapel or the viewing rooms that we would be using. (It was a sign of more trusting times that our landlords were willing to leave these tasks to their tenants, rather than insist on their staff always doing them and billing us accordingly.)

But by spring of 1979, a young man in the church, who lived somewhat closer to the chapel than we did, had volunteered to take over this task. As my father had a pregnant wife, a toddler daughter, and only one car, he gratefully accepted the offer. Until one morning he had cause to regret it...

As we were getting ready for church, the phone rang. On the other end was the rather panicked young man who had, per usual, arrived early to set up the chapel for worship.

"Pastor Robin! You must come immediately! It's an emergency!"

Dad tried to get him to calm down and state what exactly the emergency was. After all, there's no such thing as "immediately" when you're trying to get anywhere with a toddler.

"Well, the viewing room we use for the nursery was, you know, occupied, so I was wheeling the casket out, but there was a snag in the carpet, and the wheel got stuck, and, well, I, uh, DUMPED A LITTLE OLD LADY! She's sort of halfway hanging out of the casket, and I just can't get the thing back upright by myself..."

Now Dad shares the sense of panic. Nightmares about liability to the deceased's family are flooding his mind, nevermind what it might do to our attendance if any of the families who have overcome whatever qualms they might have about meeting in a funeral home are greeted by this scene when the enter their "church."

"Hold on! I'LL BE RIGHT THERE!" he says, hardly stopping to hang up the phone as he rushes for the chapel.

"Wait! There's just one more thing!" the young man interrupts before he can leave. "On your way out the door, be sure to check the calendar."

Dad almost ignored this strange directive, so inconsequential did anything the calendar might say have to say in light of this emergency. But there was a calendar between the phone and the front door, and as he passed by, he noticed the day's date -- April 1.

Today is the fifth time in my life that April 1 has fallen on a Sunday. As far as I know, my father has been victim of elaborate pranks on only two of them. Memo to Dad: the next April 1 Sunday will be in 2012, due to leap year. You might want to take that into account in determining the exact date of your retirement.


Sam @ said...

Pulling an April Fool's Day joke on a minister...somebody better be sure they've atoned for all their sins before they die, cause they will have quite a bit of splainin' to due once they reach the pearly gates.

Funny story though. :)

Robin said...

Also, my back was out.

As we were driving to Moore Park on Saturday evening to take a brief hike, I mentioned to Mike, Mindee, and Grandpa that I needed to remember that "tomorrow is April 1." And Mike said, "Tell us the story." So I did.

Anyway, no incidents yesterday (Sunday, April 1) as far as I know. A joker might have succeeded because, no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to remember that it's April Fools Day -- especially when I'm serving communion.


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