DON LOCKE: Lookin' Thru Bifocals
Singer, entertainer Ray Stevens had a song out sometime back called “Settin’ Up with the Dead.” I’m old enough to remember this well, when father sat up with the dead. It began at first when the deceased was brought back to her or her house to lie in state. Later, the custom continued with leaving the body at the funeral home around the clock. Father would still go and sit up at night...all night.
Theron Doris, from Dunbar, told of an episode setting up at home. The night was very warm. The windows were open. The body lay in the open casket covered with a thing veil to protect it from flies. This was too a part of the custom. The sitter-uppers, except for two or three, were all older men, all wearing their best clothes, showing respect for the deceased. The men visited until about midnight then each began nodding off. In the meantime, somehow a large cat came in and crawled in under the casket veil, next to the body and started napping.
Around two o’clock, all the men sound asleep, some snoring. Evidentially, one of the snorers became partially choked, coughing and snorting loudly. This scared the cat. It jumped straight up, veil and all, and squealed to high heaven. Out of the casket it went, dragging the veil. The room ceased to be quiet, like an old song, “Pandemonium Walked Up on the Scene.” A young man sitting in an open window, with no screen, fell out and hit the ground. Ol’ Brother Herndon, the only preacher there, fell backwards in leaned back, cane bottom chair and knocked pipe ashes all over this Sunday suit, burning a hole in his pants. (A lot of preachers smoked back then.) One of the oldest men there jumped up and hollered, “did somebody shoot a pistol off? I thought I heard a shot!” By then, the dogs outside set up a growl and all the neighbor dogs joined in. By this time, the casket cat was hunting new territory. People around came to see what the fracas was about. When the sun came up, a good part of the neighborhood was awake.