Before You Remember

Many years ago, my mother casually mentioned “There was a funeral home before the one you remember.”
And with those words, the quest began.

The One I Remember

I was just a toddler when Daddy went to work for Grandmother and Granddaddy. We moved across the road from the funeral home. which was both the business and my grandparents’ home. In addition to the funeral home, our grandparents owned and operated a nursing home. My mother ran a successful flower shop. They were all very busy – sometimes too busy to have a pesky little girl in tow. So when everyone else was otherwise occupied, they left me with Maudie, my great-grandmother.

Maudie lived with Grandmother and Granddaddy in the funeral home. She quietly and patiently colored in coloring books with me, taught me “William Trimbletoes“, “Club Fist“, and kept me entertained so that I didn’t bother everyone else. I adored her.

Having spent so much time with Maudie, I have vivid memories of the funeral home. In my mind, it was a grand building – one that always maintained an aura of mystery. Demolished in 1962 to make way for the creation of a dam and the resulting lake, it was preserved only by a few black and white snapshots and the memories of my generation.

Dunn Funeral Home, Kuttawa, KY 1954

In My Mind

My imagination has always been a bit fanciful, and over time, my grandparent’s home took on some rather mythic proportions. There was a fish pond where giant goldfish lived and enormous lily pads floated. There was wild honeysuckle with an intoxicating fragrance that filled the air. Wild blackberries gathered (and chigger bites collected) for a delicious cobbler. In the huge garage, a magnificent (by now decaying) carriage sat. It once had been pulled by a pair of beautiful white horses. There were tales of a hearse proudly pulled by those same horses.

That house shimmered in my mind like some fairy fort that appeared for one day in a lifetime, tantalizing and charged…

Likeness, Tana French, p.46

A funeral home of that era has two parts: the business side and the family home side. When sadness and grief opened the door to the business side, it was met with genuine care and concern. Heartbreak offset by gentle strength. Loss met with steadfast support. It is a place designed to respectfully permit a family to mourn in a manner that brings them comfort. It is a place to celebrate lives well lived. It is a place where the two seemingly contradictory parts coexist.

It is the family side – the family’s home – that provides balance in the funeral business. It is on the home side where children are born and raised. They walk to school. They learn to play the piano. Childhood friends spend the night. Grandchildren visit and play. There are Sunday dinners, Easter egg hunts, Christmas trees, cousins sneaking off to those off-limit areas (and tattled on by yours truly). There’s homemade ice cream, sitting on the porch, giggling, playing games, loving. Living life. This is what I remember.

From Imagination to Documentation

After my mother died, my sister and niece were cleaning out the garage. In an upper cabinet, scattered in various locations, they discovered boxes of slides and old negatives. I began scanning.

I started with a tray of slides that contained a few photos of me as a baby. Was I in for a surprise! One one of many scans, a beautiful color photograph of the funeral home appeared.

Once the slide scans were complete, I began work on the negatives.

There was one set that was particularly intriguing. I loaded the first into the scanner and sat quietly as it did its work. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. These near-perfect negatives, stashed in a garage cabinet for nearly 40 years, provided proof – they documented the building Mama had mentioned.

This was it! This was the home that predates the memories of my generation. This was our parents’ childhood home.

The negatives contained several views of the building and I was completely captivated. Except. There was one image I couldn’t identify.

Sure, the cars are amazing. The bike and young boy authentically vintage. But where was this and why did someone photograph it along with the rock-sided building above?

Over the years, I shared this image with various family members asking if anyone could shed any light on it. Nothing. And yet, because it was one of a set of negatives – negatives that documented the family home and business I felt certain it was relevant.

As Luck Would Have It

COVID happened. All non-essential businesses shut down. We were told to stay at home. Closets were cleaned in an attempt to exert control over some small part of our lives. I embarked on my version of closet-cleaning: I scanned long-ignored photos.

As I went through my stash, I found an envelope I had never opened. On the outside, my mother had written “Maymerose’s pictures”. Inside were my aunt’s snapshots of extended family. As I scanned the photos, I realized Mama had made notes on the backs of some of them. She had identified the people and places in her sister’s snapshots. Reading her notes, I felt as though she was leaving clues along with the identifying information. Those clues began to rattle around in my mind. “…rock being added on….”, “building the porch on the funeral home”, and “after rock was added”.

Suddenly… the last piece of the puzzle fell into place!

Not only was there a funeral home before the one I remembered,
there was a building no one had ever mentioned!

Puzzle Solved

This quest is coming to a close. Missing pieces of the puzzle discovered and assembled. Not only do we have images of the funeral home we all remember, we also have images of the one that was before our time. Even more amazing, we have a photograph of the one that started it all.

It was to this white frame building that a large porch was added.
It was this building from which the siding was removed and a rock facade installed.
Ya’ll, THIS is the beginning of the “funeral home [we all] remember”.

Ready to see the transformation? First, focus on the upstairs window. Click the play button. Did you see it? Did you see how this home was completely transformed by the addition of the rock?

Try again. This time, focus on the double window on the left. Click play. Is this not amazing? For me, this is an incredibly satisfying end to solving the puzzle of the “one before you remember”.

Oh Mama, how I wish I could show you this!
How I wish I could tell you how your notes were the key to unlock this mystery. How I wish I could share with you the layouts created using your notes as the glue that holds random photos together.
I wish I could ask you questions about your childhood home.
I wish I could tell you that I think little-girl-you is absolutely, incredibly adorable.

These layouts combine the images from negative scans, my aunt’s snapshots, and my mother’s notes.

The layouts are 12 x 12 and can be printed by family members for their personal use.


William Trimbletoes

William Trimbletoes, he’s a good fisherman
Catches fishes, puts ’em in dishes
Catches hens, puts ’em in pens
Some lay eggs, some none
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew east, one flew west
One flew over the cuckoos nest
My Ma-ma told me to pick this very next one
O.U.T. you dirty dish-rag YOU!

Club Fist

What ya got there?
Bread and cheese.
Where’s my share?
In the woods.
Where’s the woods?
Fire burned ’em.
Where’s the fire?
Water quenched it.
Where’s the water?
Ox drank it.
Where’s the ox?
Butcher killed it.
Where’s the butcher?
Rope hung him.
Where’s the rope?
Rat gnawed it.
Where the rat?
Cat caught it.
Where’s the cat?
Upstairs behind the old church door, eating your bread and cheese?

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