I think I was in junior high or high school when Aunt Evelyn died. She was an aunt by marriage to Uncle Fatty (Mother’s brother Jesse), and had been sickly for years. Poor Aunt Evelyn was always having polyps taken out of her colon, in and out of the hospital at least once a year, and felt unable to cook, keep house, or do anything resembling work. Mother disapproved of this mightily, and all the community paid lip service to feeling sorry for Evelyn while privately wondering if it was all imagined. Then one of the polyps turned out to be colon cancer and she died.
Her body was taken to Nave Funeral Home, which had just opened. Mother, Daddy and I drove into town for the viewing. It was very strange going to Nave, because I had known it as something else–the Rudolph mansion on Madison Street, where my sister Juanita had rented an apartment with one of the Rudolph girls after she graduated from Austin Peay.
The Rudolph mansion was a square, three-story brick edifice with white trim, two or three porches, a porte-cochere, and numerous fireplaces, sitting in a spacious yard with old oak trees. I remember that Juanita’s bedroom had a white-painted brick fireplace with a marble mantlepiece. As a child I thought it the height of elegance (as I thought everything Juanita did or owned was). The Rudolph family had lived there for many years, but I guess the upkeep got to be too much. So for a while they rented it out as apartments. Then they sold it to Mr. Nave, who made it into a funeral home.
The conversion was tastefully done. The high ceilings and dark wood floors with carpet runners kept the feel of an expensive family home. As we walked in a dark-suited usher greeted us, asked which viewing we were attending, and led us to the proper room. Aunt Evelyn looked smaller and thinner than ever in her coffin, but the makeup added some color to her face, maybe more than she’d ever had in life.
Mother sat with the other women at a comfortable distance from the coffin, wearing her Sunday dress and talking in a low voice. I sat with her, keeping my distance from the dead, and itching to leave.
Daddy stood by the coffin with a small group of his brothers, friends and cousins. As always, he was pleased to be with them, and they all chatted. Daddy even chuckled a bit at something one of them said, a kind of “heh-heh-heh” laugh. “George!” Mother hissed in a shocked whisper. “Now, old woman,” he said, and stayed with the group a while longer.
Finally Mother and Daddy were ready to go. Instead of going out the front door, we went to the side entrance with the porte-cochere, since it was closer to the parking lot. Another dark-suited attendant opened the door for us. Mother thanked him. Then the man smiled and said, “Y’all come back, now, hear?”
Daddy and I burst into helpless laughter. We laughed all the way to our car as Mother tried to make us hush.