The dark mahogany doors leading to the funeral parlor should have tipped me off that the entire interior had been refurbished, but the finance and expense reports that I’d received never reflected it. As we stepped inside, I saw that the cosmetic improvements included crown molding, new fixtures, fresh paint and wallpaper, new furnishings, hardwood floors, and new carpet and tile. The once small prep room was now spacious, with new instruments and modern equipment and machinery. Remembering the backbreaking work, I marveled at the mechanical hoist for lifting and lowering bodies. A new state-of-the-art refrigerated storage area had been added, along with a new cremation oven and exhaust system. A computer system now handled the majority of records and files.
Only Uncle Clem’s cramped office remained unchanged. He still used the same worn, brown desk that matched the paneling on the walls. Hanging behind the desk, the same oil painting of my family showed my great-grandparents, Buck and Fettie Belle, seated, with my grandfather Bull and Uncle Clem standing behind them. The original linoleum tile still covered the floor, and the same gray file cabinet sat behind his desk. A 2000 Flood and Sons Calendar hung from a nail in the wall directly across from the same grandfather clock that had been there as long as the parlor had.
After making arrangements with the Brown family, I checked over the paperwork once more and posted the funeral notice with the newspaper. Then Uncle clem and I headed to the prep room. After donning our smocks, gloves, goggles and face shields, we went about the business of embalming and preparation. It felt like old times working with Uncle Clem, a master mortician. No one restored a body like him. I felt like that seven-year-old kid who once stood on a chair to watch him work.