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  • Writer's picturePanthergirl

A life less ordinary

Years ago, when I was still living in New York, I had a neighbor whom I got to know pretty intimately as we'd walk several miles together every day, taking multiple loops around the 1 mile road through our condo complex. What could have been a monotonous exercise for the sake of exercise sometimes became fascinating as we exchanged extraordinary stories of our very disparate childhoods, mine in Brooklyn and hers in Mankato, Minnesota.

One story has stuck with me more than any. Her father was a mortician and she grew up living in the family's funeral home. Having been a huge fan of HBO's "Six Feet Under", but also someone who is pretty freaked out by the very thought, I had a million questions to ask her. What became quickly evident was that the show had barely touched upon the more horrific aspects of this life for a small child. She told me that because her father was a large man, his hands were too beefy to manage the bodies of tiny infants...some of whom had died at birth. Her "job" as a little girl was to dress them and place them into their caskets. In one case, a set of triplets didn't make it past their second day of life and she had to wriggle their limp bodies into soft gowns and arrange all three in one box.

Many of her childhood days were spent sitting at the top of the stairs that led down to the chapels, listening to people arrive and to their anguished sounds as they were swallowed up by their grief. Her grandmother would scoop her up and take her to the kitchen to make cookies, never acknowledging or explaining the life events taking place on the first floor.

Although she has no memories of it, the family talked for years about the day that they found her sitting in a rocking chair, singing to a baby that she had removed from its casket. Without a word, her grandmother simply lifted the infant from her arms, placed it back in the box, and cheerily asked, "Should we make chocolate or oatmeal today?"

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