Monday, March 4, 2013

Small Town Characters

Well that was interesting. For some obscure reason my last post generated a lot of interest. In fact, it set a one day record for my blog. I wonder what readers expected when they clicked on a post titled The Viewing. I suspect it was something quite different than what they actually got.

Stranger yet was one of the comments. It is the only time I have ever deleted a non-spam comment. I even phoned my brother before I deleted it, thinking it might have been him trying to be funny. It wasn't. The anonymous comment said "What a horrible thing to say." I have no idea what horrible thing I said. Perhaps it was a newer reader who doesn't know one of my children is an amputee and was offended by my reference to the box of legs we have in our storage room. I was 95% successful in not letting it bother me for the rest of the day.

Writing that post brought back a lot of memories from my childhood. I grew up on a farm in Northern Idaho, but just barely. Our home was about three miles from the Washington/Idaho border, and the nearest town was actually in Washington. This town was where we shopped, did business and went to school. And like every other small town across the face of the planet it had its share of "local characters."

Looking out towards our Idaho farm in the distance

It just so happens that one of The Characters in our town was Mr. K, the undertaker. He was a very unique individual. I sort of think you would have to be to have that job, especially in a small community where your customers (present tense) had also been your friends (past tense). Mr. K had a zippy way of walking. He put a lot of life into his stride, possibly to compensate for the lack thereof in his clientele. He almost always had a big smile on his face, and I seem to remember him whistling a lot. He looked a bit like a white version of Sammy Davis Jr.

Mr. K liked to joke around. My favourite story is one my dad told me. Our small town had a bowling alley. This was common back in the 1960s. The bowling alley had a coffee shop attached, and this was the local meeting place for the men of the community. The would sit and drink their coffee, smoke their cigarettes (also common in the 1960s), and worry about the weather (they were mostly farmers). One day Mr. K was having coffee with them. One of the farmers lit up a cigarette and the minute he did Mr. K reached into his pocket, pulled out a measuring tape, and sized the guy up like he was measuring him for a coffin. To this day I think of this every time I see someone use a measuring tape.

The K family had a monopoly on death in our community. Mr. K dealt with the bodies and Mrs. K dealt with the flowers and make-up. Strangely, or maybe not since after all he was one of the town characters, when I was in my teens he and Mrs. K divorced, but they continued to live in the same house, with him taking care of the bodies and her taking care of the flowers. They had three children, and the daughter was in my class at school. We were not close friends, but I did occasionally go to her house to play after school, and I distinctly remember being creeped out if I knew there was "a customer."

The elementary school I attended, along with Mr. K's daughter

Peer pressure was their business strategy of choice. When my grandpa died, glossy pictures of outrageously priced caskets were shown to my grandma, along with the names of the prominent citizens who had been buried in them. In a way I guess I can't blame them. After all, in a town with a population of just 1000 people there was only so much business they could expect to do in any given year.

Since their funeral business potential was rather limited, they wisely decided to branch out. There was no use letting that hearse sit idle for so many days of the year, so it also ended up being used as the town's ambulance. It wasn't until I was in my teens that this changed and the town got a real ambulance, complete with a volunteer team of medics.

Mr. and Mrs. K are long gone, but the monopoly is not. One of Mr. K's sons now runs the business. His wife, however, does not do the flowers and make-up. But she is an ordained minister, and when I went to the funeral of one of our farm neighbours a couple of years ago there she was, up front and centre leading the service while Mr. K stood quietly at the back making sure everything went smoothly.  

My brother John and me in front of our old high school when we were home visiting a couple years ago.  
As I watched him I couldn't help but wonder if he kept a measuring tape in his pocket...

14 comments:

  1. I've never seen anything horrible on your blog. That's very odd.

    I would have been creeped out playing at that house too. I wonder if they had many visitors??? When my mom passed away, it took a lot of effort to steer my dad away from the over-priced caskets the undertaker kept pushing (despite the government-required video explaining the undertaker wasn't allowed to pressure you). But business is business. I'm sure Mr. K's personality was a blessing to clients' families.

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    1. It was odd, Rick. I still can't figure it out. I t bothered me that someone would say that without signing their name and/or stating what they found to be so horrible. And it definitely wasn't spam. In the end I decided it wasn't constructive, so I deleted it.

      Back when my grandma was picking out a casket for my grandpa there weren't any government-required videos. It doesn't sound like a bad idea though. :-) And Mr. K actually was a blessing. He was liked and respected in our community, and because he knew each family, when a death occurred you knew his compassion was genuine. But still, he was a bit quirky...

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  2. Being a huge fan of 'play on words' -- I chuckled when I saw your blog post title in my Google Reader. I figured it would be about the house. :)

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    1. I'm glad I made you chuckle. That's the reaction I was hoping for! :-)

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  3. I loved your last post (perhaps your complainant thought you were being disrespectful to the dead? Personally I thought you were spot on, and you made me laugh)

    An Idaho farm ... it sounds exotically 'Little House on the Prairie' (wrong state, I know) to a Brit, but I imagine the reality was a lot of hard graft. Still, even with many of the locals employed in a backbreaking and sometimes dangerous job, I can see that serving a population of just a 1000 would require an undertaker to branch out!

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    1. Our farm wasn't like Little House on the Prairie, but it was a wonderful place just the same. My parents stayed on that farm until about seven years ago, so my kids had the privilege of getting to spend lots of time there too, which was a wonderful experience for them. We all miss it very much.

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    1. Thanks! I tried doing what you said to do with the code but couldn't get it to work. At some point I will have to make another attempt, but for now I'm pretty happy with what I came up with. I just wish I could get my blog title under the header. By the way, the picture of the painting in the right of the header is done from an old black and white photo of my grandpa during harvest on the farm I grew up on. The photo was taken in the 1920s.

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  5. I must have somehow missed your last post it's never easy hiding everything away! lovely to read your memories of local characters!
    Sarah x

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    1. The trickiest thing to hide are our pets. Jay puts our cat Emily in her carrier and drives away with her, and I take Fergus and Jenny. They all hate it. :-)

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  6. That's a great story. You don't get so many of those clear, interesting characters any more it's a shame. The tape measure picture will live with me, thanks for making me giggle :)

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    1. I'm glad I was able to give you a laugh over the tape measure story. It is one of my family's favourites!

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  7. Kristie, your stories are always wonderful! As for the complainant about your last post, forget that. The really horrible thing to say was in the comments when you said your stash wouldn't come with the house. SO disappointed... I might have seriously considered moving north. :D

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    1. Now there's a thought - maybe if I listed the house "complete with finer" the way we have said it comes with appliances we might have a quick sale. :-)

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