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LAYING A CORPSE
 
 

This is a cold night in northwest Weakley County, Tennessee. I was sitting here thinking about all my ancestors and the many different type funerals and such. I just thought I needed to write about the "Old Time" way funerals were conducted. How many have laid a corpse in this old home of mine. I know of plenty cause I was there, so I want to tell you about them. 

My grandfather, William Lee Jones was brought home one last time in 1948 and lay a corpse in the living room. Now when someone died in our little community of Chestnut Glade all the neighbors would come in, clean the house, bring food and sit up all night with the corpse. This lasted several days usually, the house always full. The funeral was sometimes even held at home but most of the time the corpse was carried to the church for the funeral service. 

William Lee Jones was born in 1874 and had lived in this same house since he married Lucy Caroline McClain in 1893. They raised 9 children and were the proud grandparents of 11 grandchildren. Their children were born in this house and both of them died in this house so I think it is fitting to tell about them. 

The next one to lay a corpse in the living room was their oldest son, Estes Hall Jones who was born in 1895. Estes had died in Detroit, Michigan and brought home one more time. Estes is the only one of this entire family that is not or will not be buried at Oak Grove Cemetery on the Fulton/Dukedom Highway. Papa Jones, William Lee Jones, as he was called by his family had been one of the founders of this cemetery. Estes is buried at the Water Valley, Kentucky Cemetery, not so many miles away.


 joneslucy&children.JPG (37146 bytes)
This picture was made the day after Estes was buried.  This is Mama Jones and the remaining eight children
From left: Valeria, Henson, D.J., Allen, Montez, Theron, Marion and Beauton.  The caskets always sat under the double windows that you see in this picture.

 

Then comes my dear precious Mama Jones. She died sitting in her rocking chair very peaceful the afternoon of August 13th. Of course Mama Jones came home one last time to this same living room with all the family, friends, and neighbors present. Now let me tell you, I was LOST and didn't know what I would do without my Mama Jones. I lost that hot August day my best friend, my playmate, my roommate, my mama, my grandmother and every thing else you could think of. She meant the world to me and still does to this day! 

Weakley County was in the process of widen our old dirt road and fixing us a good gravel road. Now the old theory is when a real religious person dies, it will rain for days. Let me tell you it rained for days and days when Mama Jones died. It was a Thursday when Mama Jones died and she was brought home on Friday, it had already started raining. Now can you image a dirt road and all this rain.....fresh dirt where the bulldozer had been working clearing the road and side ditches? The ruts in the road got BAD, so bad that finally a cousin's husband brought his ton truck and hauled people in and out. By Sunday when it was time to take Mama Jones to Oak Grove for the funeral, they could not get the hearse in to the house. They finally brought the flower wagon in and carried her out. She had left home for the last time. We all went out in that ton truck standing in the back of it. I am here to tell you that was one slick ride. 

As soon as Mama Jones died, her children started coming and then the neighbors. Henson and Lenora (he was a son) Jones stayed all night with us. I went to my bed in mine and Mama Jones's room, right where she had died. I did not sleep for four days or nights, all I could see was her sitting in that rocking chair. The same rocking chair that now sits in my bedroom. The same rocking chair that I have never sit in since that day in August. It is one of my most prized possessions. 

As I said Mama Jones was brought home on Friday. Friday night there was about 6 neighbors sitting in our living room with her. This was done back then, always sit up with the dead. This went on every night till the funeral. Also I mentioned the woman coming in, well Mama had just bought me some new clothes to start school. I was and am short, everything had to be hemmed. Remember Rella that I talked about, bless her heart. She hemmed my skirt to wear to the funeral, if I had hung a toenail...... well let's just say she couldn't hem any better than she could cook but she was a dear old soul. We played rook a many a night with her and Hun as she called her husband. Big meals were served each and every time it was meal time by the women of the neighborhood to everyone. I appreciated all of this but was ready for everybody to just go home and let me wallow in my grief. 

Mama Jones's oldest brother was Dr. John D. McClain born in Weakley County, Tennessee July of 1848. I have recently found a letter she wrote to her brother in Arkansas about the death and burial of Dr. John as she called him. Would you believe, it started raining when he died and didn't quit for days! The deaths and funerals sounded so much alike. Now image this, she lived about a mile from him and could not get there because of the rain and roads! The letter is a genealogy fine that we all look for and some never receive in our genealogy work. In this fine came a picture of her about 16 years old, and many other letters to her brothers and other family members.


mcclainlucyjones.JPG (33082 bytes)
 
Now you tell me, wasn't she one beautiful woman?
Lucy Caroline McClain
My Dear Mama Jones
Picture made sometime around 1893


Now I want to tell you as was told to me how people lay a corpse when Mama Jones was a girl. They did not always use funeral homes back then, especially the country people. If a funeral home was not used then somebody would wash the dead person and dress them in their finest and lay them out on a bed for viewing. Of course all the neighbor would come in for how ever many days until the funeral. Somebody would build a casket which was usually a pine box for the dead person to be buried in. In 
those days it was not a law that you had to be embalmed. Life was hard but really much simply back then. 

Mama Jones told me stories about these times, so what I am telling you is from memories of our days in the swing under the shade tree. She was sixteen when her daddy died, just about the time the picture above was made. Her mother, Delilah Jane Johnson McClain, some of her brothers washed him and laid him out on their bed for viewing. His sons made a coffin for him to be buried in. Now he is not buried at Oak Grove with the rest of them, there was no cemetery there yet. He is buried at New Hope Cemetery, a few miles the over side of Chestnut Glade, along with his wife and several of their children that didn't live to be grown and some that lived to just early adulthood. Mama Jones was the youngest of thirteen children, only one sister, Lydia Ann Elizabeth McClain Hendrix, and four 
brothers, Dr. John D. McClain, William A. McClain, Thomas McClain and James McClain lived to be grown and married with families. 

Mama Jones often told me about her sister Belle. Belle lived to be 22 years old and for the life of me I can not remember what she died of but I do remember Mama Jones telling what a beautiful woman she was and also a beautiful corpse. Lydia, Mama Jones and their mother, Delilah washed Belle, dressed her in a dress that she had made and laid her out for viewing. She told me that the house was overflowing with people. The buggies came from miles with all the big families, bringing food, bedding 
and tools to help on the farm during this time. 

mcclainbelle.JPG (33381 bytes)
Mary Jane (Belle) McClain
This picture was made not long before she died.
 
 

She also remembered when her brother Emerson died at the age of 19 and again I don't really know what he died of but do know that he was sickly, as she called it and had a club foot. Again he was washed, laid out for viewing and at the time of the funeral was placed in a pine box that was nailed shut and taken to New Hope Cemetery in a wagon for the burial. All the buggies went in a procession like we do today in cars. The funeral was preached at the cemetery. 

When her mother, Delilah Jane Johnson McClain died she was living with Mama Jones in the same house I told you about above, my home today. Mama Jones and Lydia washed their mother with the help of some of the neighbor women. Delilah was put in a store bought casket and lay a corpse in the same living room. Times were changing, did not lay them on the bed for viewing anymore. There were funeral homes during this time but country folks were poor and had to do for themselves. 

Of course the government finally stepped in and made it a law that a dead person has to be embalmed if they are not buried the same day. Even I remember one time a school teacher died in our neighborhood and her sons washed her, built a casket and buried her in their backyard all in the same day. This caused quite a stir around the country side. To me they were taking care of their own. I see nothing wrong with that. One finally note here, Mama Jones said that when every member of her family died it rained for days on end. 


Written by Paula (pj) Howard Thompson 

c1999pjThompson 
Note: These stories remain property of Paula Thompson and may not be reproduced or used in any publication without her written approval and endorsement.

 

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