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Hog Shunning


We children frequently laughed in the face of the man called Undertaker

only to run away alive; so, I guess he was more like an old Schatzie*

than a Grim Reaper.


Way back as far as ’93 or ‘94

my daddy’s grandpa’s pa and ma brought him and

all his brothers and sisters who would come along

in the open mule-drawn wagon, down rutted red dirt roads

from eastern Kentucky to a rural county seat in north Texas.


Here, the men shunned hogs and farming, and took to crafting furniture

and white pine coffins for a living.


They filled settler’s lives

with bedsteads and padded side chairs;

dove-tailed drawers in linen chests;

            kitchen tables, fancy carved sideboards;

            tall mirrors brought in from saucier climes;

            quilt boxes, one or two pierced front pie safes;


            pigeon-hole desks with tall, backless stools

for the cotton gin offices.


All this gentility and show-room finery went on while they

filled the county cemeteries with hand-crafted long pine boxes.


By the end of ‘95 great-grandpa had a newlywed bride of almost a year.


Though expecting their first child, she joined them in their man’s world of work,

staying well behind that backroom curtain, which was understood

to be the great divide between the men and her, as well as a

private place for her to hide her obvious belly while she grew a baby

and sewed upholstery for their fine side chairs.


For a reasonable fee or trade of a yard-bird’s dozen eggs she would comfort the

sad families of new occupants of long pine boxes by adding a simple

mattress cotton liner covered in cheap white satin.


Another two bits worth of pocket change or some little trinket traded would buy a

small satin covered pillow filled with that same hard cotton, but

washing and dressing the departed fell to the women of their families.


Warm in winter, soft in summer, always clean and white;

like angels’ beds, those coffins were lovingly lined and the pillows

were arranged to prop up dead folks’ heads somewhat,

so they’d be buried looking as natural as though they were sleeping.


It’s even been told that one hot summer day they buried great-grandma’s

brother-in-law just somewhat prematurely; being that he was presumed

dead due to mortal injuries received when a load of brick

fell down a well on him, crushing his head and relieving him of breath.


Though no condensation appeared when a mirror was stuck under his nose,

my great-grandma retorted with some audaciousness that his heart

must still be struggling to beat because something was forcing a

tiny trickle of watery red liquid out of his ear and onto that fine

satin pillow no matter how many times she cleaned it off.


The grave was already dug, so he was buried that afternoon.


I always imagine that after that funeral, everyone left standing went to the

churchyard to share picnic baskets while they told hoary stories about the Cumberland Gap and the mortally wounded dead man (dead for sure by now),

who was duly and formally buried in one of his own hand-crafted

white pine coffins with the cheap satin lining and small pillow.


Anyway, it is truly well known, bona fide fact, and not a family tale, that

every day of this world, even in high summer, that Undertaker stood up

for hours, all stiff and proper in the scorching afternoon sun in front of his parlor;

wearing his black wool suit with a long sleeved white shirt,

a six-button vest, a black grosgrain Victorian necktie, and a well-worn

stovepipe hat; wet with his impoverished sweat that soaked through the band

into his unkempt hair and then, dripped in dusty little rivulets down his neck.


You could watch him tearlessly mourning as the farmers in wagons rolled past to

fetch a new, satin-lined, hand-crafted white pine box from the furniture store.

*Schatzie – in German, a word meaning sweetheart, dear, or endearing person. May or may not be of a romantic nature.


Toni A Christman 2013. All rights reserved



Elaine Nall Bay
Grayson County CC
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