The first death
Let's time warp over to December of 1962.
Every child has to learn about and how to deal with death. I fully intend for this article to 100% compatible in language and grammar for any 11 year old child; the age I was when I first came to deal with death. Neighbors and even a couple of distant family members died when I was younger. This was my first close touch with death.
I need to explain that I lived with and was raised my grandparents. We weren't well off. You might even call us poor when it came to money. We did not have a phone at that time. We did have good and caring neighbors.
We were watching TV on a chilly winter evening when we heard the car pull into the driveway and the hurried knock on the door. It was the neighbor from up the road a bit who explained that the family had called and my grandmother's brother was dead. They were waiting for her to call back and calling collect was fine.
My grandmother said to the neighbor,” Something has happened to Earl?"
The neighbor replied, "No, I think they said Fred."
Then to my grandfather she said, "I'll drive Ida up and back if you want to stay here so you don't have to bring the children out."
This gracious offer was quickly accepted. This is what country neighbors did for each other in the 60's.
Of course normal bedtime was suspended and we waited for her to return. When my grandmother returned we learned that her youngest brother, Fred had died of a sudden heart attack a few hours earlier. He was only 53.
I must confess that I was relieved that it was not my Uncle Earl. Uncle Earl was my all time favorite person and losing him would have troubled me greatly. I still felt bad. I liked Uncle Fred, but I wasn't as close to him. This lessened the immediate pain a bit.
This call came on a Thursday evening December 13, 1962. Since the next day was a school day it was decided we would go to school the next day. My grandparents would make the drive to Lexington. They would be home by the time the bus dropped us off. We were quickly hustled off to bed since we were already late.
I don't recall if the visitation times were on Saturday or Sunday. By date I know the funeral and burial was scheduled for Monday the 17th of December. My sister was deemed to little to go to the visitation and I was given a choice of going or staying with my Uncle Earl and sister. I may have visited briefly or I may have weenied out and choose to stay with Uncle Earl. That part I don't recall. It doesn't matter. That is not what this story is about.
What this story is about and what does matter is the choices I made later. File them under things I would do different if I had the chance. I have to explain that for several school years I jealously watched a few classmates receive a "perfect attendance certificate" at the end of the school year. Something I had failed to earn. Something I really wanted; wanted so badly that I chose to not go to the funeral. In 2012 you may laugh at this. It wasn't funny to me in 1962.
I went to school that Monday. My choice ate away at me. I felt so guilty that I asked my teacher if I could go see the principal. After an explanation about the why my request was granted. After explaining my problem to principal I was allowed to stand on the side of the road in the hope that I might be able to flag down the car as my grandparents drove by. There was more than one route they could take. The car never came by. Trust me kiddies, none of this is going to happen in 2012 or the future. Learn from my mistakes and make better choices.
So even though my teachers and school principal bent over backwards and maybe even broke a rule or two to help me out I failed to make it to Uncle Fred's funeral that day; something I felt badly about and would feel guilty about for as long as 11 year old can suffer right before Christmas. I do feel the need to point out that though Christmas may have eased the immediate pain, I have never really forgiven myself for my choice. If you are in a similar situation you may want to learn from my mistake.
The coming New Year would offer a chance at redemption, but it would come with the loss of someone of whom I was very fond.
In Memory of:
Fred Elsworth Chinn
11-14-1909 ~~ 12-13-1962
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