It was Sunday afternoon and Mama was putting her hair-styling tools into a small bag. Curious, I wondered whose hair she could possibly do on Sunday. She explained that Mrs. Taylor had died and she was going to the funeral home to do her hair for the service. “A dead person!” I was horrified yet fascinated. I’d never seen a real corpse in all of my eight years. Mama said she’d done Mrs. Taylor’s hair for years and it was the last thing she could do for her. I begged to go and watch, promising to stay out of the way. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends that I had seen a real, live corpse – maybe even touched one. My head spun with excitement. “You’ll just be bored,” Mama said kindly. I remember her whispering with my father and hearing: it’s probably better to see someone she doesn’t know than a loved one. I agreed; it wasn’t like it was Grandma or Pop. It wouldn’t bother me one bit. So, against her better judgement, Mama took me along on that dreary winter day.
The funeral director greeted us and led us to a back room. “We already washed and dried her hair,” he told us. I followed behind Mama and watched her set her supplies on a table. The room was stark and bright with the scent of chemicals floating in the air. I glanced around and my heart nearly stopped when I SAW MRS. TAYLOR! Her body lay on a table, under a white sheet. Her face as white as the sheet, her mouth open, and her long white hair standing out from her head like she’d been in a wind tunnel. I uttered a gasp and almost fainted. I remember stumbling backwards to the door, eyes wide and heart pounding with fear. Mama sighed and gave me her “I was afraid of this” look. The funeral director asked if I’d like to wait in the lobby. I definitely did and soon settled onto a velvety straight-backed chair, my feet not touching the floor. There, I spent the longest afternoon of my life, bored and embarrassed that I’d been such a chicken. I longed for a comic book or a coloring book, but my only diversion was reading funeral information. From time to time, the stoic funeral director attempted to converse with me, but for the first time in my life, I was totally speechless. Finally, Mama was finished and we went home. No one scolded me or reminded me of my bravado. At that time, I thought my mother was the bravest person on earth. Today is her birthday. I miss her and think of her every day. She was the sweetest, kindest person I’ve ever known. She was the model for Sparky’s and Grey’s mother in my Bailey’s Chase novels. (About the picture: I was seven. It was five years before my baby sister Becky was born. The photographer insisted I stare at baby brother, Steve, since my smile resembled a jack-o-lantern. This was a proof; Mom didn’t like the picture because Daddy wasn’t ready and brother John looked so squirrelly.)