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The Funeral

Tombstone: 'Rest in Peace'

    Recently I attended the funeral service for a friend.  At two in the afternoon the temperature was a shade over 100 degrees.  It was uncomfortably hot outside, but the funeral home air conditioning worked well and we were comfortable during the service.  However, at the cemetery it was another story.  As we stood in the sun, I was reminded of a burial service long ago.

    The year would have been 1934, the second year of the famous "dirty thirties" drought.  An elderly neighbor passed away after an extended illness.  The family was poor and had not lived in the community very long.  Money was hard to come by for everyone in those days.  The neighbors took up a collection to raise the necessary $10.00 for a grave lot in the cemetery.  The lot was staked out and the process of digging a grave was started early the next morning.

    In those days, graves were dug with pick and shovel.  The neighbors gathered and the first two feet went fairly well.  The cemetery was on top of a clay hillside and soon we found out how hard clay soil can be after two years of little or no rainfall.  Soon, it was impossible to make any progress with just a shovel.  The diggers resorted to heavy pickaxes to break up the soil into golf ball sized chunks.  Only one person at a time could work when a pickax was being swung.  A one inch layer was loosened and shoveled topside.  By noon temperatures were over 100 degrees and the diggers were wringing wet.  The grave was barely three feet deep.  Things were getting desperate, as the funeral was scheduled for the next day.

    During the noon break one of the neighbors secured two 10 gallon cream cans and drove his team and wagon down the road to the only well with enough water to fill the cans.  He returned and poured the water into the grave.  By the time the men returned from lunch, the water had nearly all soaked in and the wetting and digging continued.  Inch by inch, the grave deepened until by late afternoon it was nearly five feet deep.  That was still not enough.  Some of the neighbors had to leave to do their evening chores and care for their livestock.  They soon returned and the digging continued; by dusk the grave was finished.  It had been a long hot day with afternoon temperatures near 110 degrees.  But there was an air of expediency about the endeavor.  The job had to be done on time, despite adversities.  There was no postponing or delaying a funeral in those days when temperatures exceeded 100 degrees.

    Originally, there were plans for a funeral service at the little county church.  However, word came down that the visiting preacher was sick in bed with a high fever.  This required a change of plans.

    A graveside service was held the next morning.  One of the neighbors read a scripture and another gave a eulogy, while still another sang a hymn.  The coffin was nailed shut and lowered into the grave by ropes.  As the crowd dispersed, several teenagers, including me, were assigned the job of filling in the grave.

    It was well into the hot afternoon when we finished.  As we sat in the shade of the only tree that had survived the drought, and rested, I reflected on what had taken place.  First, we had lost a dear friend and fine neighbor.  He was a good man and we would miss him.  He had run the course and had suffered, but now he was at peace with the Lord.  Secondly, I marveled at the group that had prepared his resting place.  There was a pioneer spirit of cooperation to get the job done.  All through the previous day, as we labored in the hot sun to dig the grave, there was jovial banter, joking with one another, to cover up the sadness that we felt.  We all knew what had to be done and we were determined to do it.  As I look back, it was that pioneering spirit of camaraderie that sustained us in body and spirit.  That spirit prevailed in those days.

    That same spirit was missing at that recent funeral service.   I suspect we lost some of it when we developed the age of modern technology.   I sometimes wonder why such spirit and resolve seems to have been a casualty of the times.

divider line of two flower vines

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