This is one of those stories that grew with each telling. In fact, if there had ever been one where truth is stranger than fiction, this if it. For some reason, Corb had gone with Mom way down in Sampson County where Grandpa was preaching a fuberal. The fact that Corb had gone was somewhat of a phenomena. He was a master of es caping when it was time for one of these foreys, especially as related to church. If he didn’t want to be found, the CIA couldn’t do it. So, for him to go with Mom, this must have been a little different.
Grandpa often did this funeral preaching and preaching was the correct word. For one thing, in a normal funeral, a herd of preachers would often make even the worst sinner into a saint. But, if there was the slightest doubt, then a preacher like Grandpa could be brought in by the family to preach them into heaven. Grandpa would pranch up and down the ailes exhorting the saints and sinners to pray for the soul of the departed, to stand in the place of this one whose life on earth was less than stellar. By the time Grandpa was through, most of the county had been taken into the fold where they wanted to be or not.
Now there’s mystery here. We are the first to admit. But, on this day, Grandpa was shining. The subject at hand was a Mister Senn. You got it: Senn, like Sin. Mr Senn had died of old age, whatever that is. They lived in a big old ram shackeled house and farmed a small plot of land, had cows and pigs, the usual trappings of a small farm. And there were four Senn daughters who had never married. Rumor was that one of them, Thelma by name and the one who had taught a bunch of women, to include Mom, a special quilting pattern, was the matriarch of the family. The Mom had died years earlier. Thelma by her size was imposing. Corb said she was bigger than Aunt Gertie but just not only rotund but big, shoulders, arms, a big, big woman, he emphasized.
And, the fact that it was grandpa doing the honors was strictly coincidental or maybe not. Mom, being the oldest, and Grandpa didn’t seem to always have the best relationship. I’m not totally sure why and our information more or less came from George and he should know. In a kind of weird happening, our George had spent a couple of years on and off staying with Grandpa. Grandpa, through Grandma, had talked Mom into it. Mom’s thought was that Grandma didn’t ask for much and if she needed George for while, we could surely spare him. It was one of the only times
when Dad and Mom really got cross ways. Grandpa was in a jam with the crops. He was off doing the Lord’s work, Mom’s brothers could not be counted on to keep things going. They needed George for stability. It didn’t work, George was unhappy, Dad was upset, we didn’t like it. George came back home but with tales to spin.
We think it might have been the way Mom and her sisters perceived that Grandpa treated Grandma. He would be gone for weeks and nobody would know where he was. Yes, he was always doing the Lord’s work. Mom was skeptical. And, I think we were at this funeral preaching just to make sure that Grandpa knew that he was being watched. This was all speculation but the drama of this funeral was not.
It had been raining seemingly for weeks although on this day, it was pretty nice with the sun out. The church was a wooden type with a nice steeple and this cemetary out to the side, much like most of the rural churches. What would happens is that the more prominent people would have a gravesite closer to the church or easier to get too. All churches had a cemetary committee and they were notorious for fighting.
First off the service got started about an hour late as was pretty much the way it always was. Right there in the front, just below the pulpit was Mr. Senn stretched out lizard length as Dad was so fond of saying The open casket with the departed Mr. Senn was there for all to see. From what I guessed, Mr. Senn would not have been too happy to be so prominently displayed, especially since he was probably not known for being a stalward church attender. How did I know? I knew nothing other than Grandpa had been called in so he must have been a hard case.
Mom and Corb were seated close to the back. The church started about an hour late which was the way it usually was. Corb said he calculated that they were in for about four or five hours if they were lucky.
The Senn sisters were moaning or crying. It had already heated up. Grandpa was getting warmed up. A couple of people had let loose with some “praise the Lords.” Then what happened next is a little fuzzie–let the show begin. So begins the clapping and crying. More choruses of praise the Lord, Grandpa was on the move, up and down the ailes, in front of the Senn girls, talking about the power of God on these blessed girls who had cared for their father. Corb said he almost thought Mr. Senn might climb out of that casket and say, “preach on, brother.”
This goes on for a couple of hours, and kind of on cue, the Undertaker makes a move for the final viewing. People start filing by, some murmuring. Mercifully, it seems to be coming to a close. After the Senn girls had their chance, the casket would be closed, the pallbearers, local saints would carry the casket to the already dug grave for a brief commital service. And, the folks would have a little reverie as they departed. A successful funeral. The Senn girls could be happy that they have dobe well for the elder Senn.
Nobody could have predicted what was going to happen at this point. As was the custom, the family is the last to view the deceased. Suddenly, without warning, Thelma is overcome with grief, she falls on the casket. The casket crashes into the floor and knocks a giant hole in it. Everybody is in stunned silence.
For what seems like forever, time is suspended. Then, thank the Lord, Clyde Norman, a local man is assisting in the funeral. He comes down the aisle and not to gentlely pulls Thelma off the casket and wrestles her back onto the bench. Now, think about it: this is no easy feat. Thelma tops the scales at a rough estimate of about 400 pounds and we ain’t talking just casual weight. All the Senn girls are no size eights but Thelma is heavy and muscular like an ox. Did I mention that Thelma was a school teacher. It is said that her classes were examples of orderliness; the threat of one of her gigantic hands up beside one of those country boys heads were enough to coerse the rowdiest boy into silence.
Finally Clyde and a couple of the men helped maneuver the casket back on the wobbly contraption while it precariously leans and he closes it. Most everybody knows the normal procedure: the preachers proceed ahead of the casket, then the family have a short walk to the gravesite and a few words and we’re out of there to rush somewhere and tell the tale of what happened on the day of old Mr. Senn’a funeral.
Grandpa is still a little ashen as are most of the people. The walk through the cemetery is slightly muddy, no standing puddles but the evidence of days of rain are everywhere. The casket is placed on the restraints which are used to lower it into the ground. Not an easy task because of the wet ground. Another pastor reads some scripture and just as he is about to pray, Thelma becomes overwhelmed with emotion, literally falls on the casket and it lowers under this enormous weight into the hole with Thelma on top. The preacher in trying to hold onto her, is lowered into the hole also. Here the preacher is on top of Thelma who is on her Dad’s casket and they are not six feet under but at least four feet down. It is an indescribable scene. The preacher is trying to get a hold to get off of Thelma but can’t. To the rescue comes Clyde and some other man. They get the preacher’s hands and painstakingly pull him out of the hole. It took at least four of them.
Thelma is lying face down. The indignity of it was surpassd by the gravity of getting Thelma out of the hole. The stories that probably ensued from this incident in modem times would have brought TV stations from around the world and segments of it would have been on the news for days, eventually resulting in a reality show.
After several attemps by different teams of men, all resulting in no success to get Thelma out of the grave, at best they had merely gotten her in a position where theycould grasp arms and hands. As resignation turned to
panic, someone came up with the idea of a hoist. What this could do was hydralically pull Thelma out of the hole. Someone took off to find one and in short order they were back. A heavy duty line was tied around Thelma’s waist and slowly she was pulled from the hole. There were no cheering crowds as discretely Thelma was whisk home.
Corb! What a funeral!