The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Granny Mildred's Funeral

By M. Kay Miller © 1991

Issue: July, 1991

I don't guess I'll ever forget Granny Mildred's funeral if I live to be a hundred. I was 13 at the time, but I remember the fuss clear as if it just happened. Us kids were lagging behind as the funeral procession wound to the top of the hill where she'd be buried facing the East to catch the rising sun on Resurrection Morning. That way she'd be right handy should God need any help with the operations.

The men lugging the casket got to the open grave before the rest of us reached the top. Then Aunt Maudie May declared she wanted to see her momma one more time.

Uncle Herbert opened the coffin for Aunt Maudie May while we looked on from a distance. Aunt Maudie May looked in, gave a hoop and blamed if she didn't faint dead away.

"Why, what's the matter with the woman?" Aunt Cassie demanded, charging up the hill in a hurry. The rest of us were too surprised to move. As we looked on Aunt Cassie came to the coffin, looked in, yelled, "She's gone! Momma's gone!" and blamed if she didn't faint dead as an overworked plow mule.

Well, we was all up to the coffin by then, and I looked in along with the rest. Sure enough, Granny Mildred was gone; I mean she wasn't lying there on them coffin pillows where the boys had put her.

"Why she is gone!" Cousin Lem declared.

Now Pa Will had come up to the coffin all right, but he hadn't happened to look inside. So he just turned to Lem and said, "Course she is, fool; that's why we're here!"

"No, gone missing," Cousin Lem informed him some affronted.

"Why, the saintly woman has translated," the preacher gasped in surprise. I always excused him that statement. He was new, after all, and hadn't really known Granny Mildred.

At that Pa Will looked for the first time at his little wife, or rather where she was supposed to be, and saw that she was indeed gone. He turned white and then green and finished a kind of strange purplish color. His breathing came kinda raspy and shallow, and we thought he might faint too.

Most folks, I guess, figured it was his grief and the shock that brought on these symptoms. But I'd been living with Granny Mildred and Pa Will since my parents' death when I was around 8, and I've always suspected that Pa Will thought for just a second that she'd come back to life and that he wasn't a loving widower but an in-the-flesh husband once again. And I reckon the prospect scared him to death.

To understand Pa Will's reaction, you've got to know about Granny. She was kinda frail as far as her size; she was only 4'5" or so. But that's as far as her frailness went. There was nothing delicate about her attitude toward life as Pa Will had found out early after they were married. They were together 45 years, and all during that time Pa Will received a kind of intimate attention from Granny Mildred that I expect he'd rather done without. She made him toe a pretty demanding mark, which he did, but not because he wanted to. Truth was he was afraid of her, all 225 pounds of him.

Pa Will was pretty much just a good old boy. Up to his marriage he'd just assumed it was the man's job to make trouble and the woman's job to clean it up. But once married to Granny Mildred he found that if he began to stray, she'd come get him and haul him home.

All the time I knew them, it was tiny Granny Mildred who cracked the whip over her giant of a husband. I remember once when she was angry at him, he hung around the pig shed for a couple of days. Another time Pa Will had asserted his intention to rebel under Granny Mildred's rule. He stopped eating for a week, but not because he wanted to. Granny just stopped cooking for him. He loved her cooking more than anything. After a couple of days, he was trying everything to get back on her good side.

To my young eyes it seemed silly for a big man to make way for this little woman. I was young and asked her how come he was like that. My question made her grin at some recollection or other.

"There was a time it wasn't so," she confided. "When we were first married, Will was a young buck who was still sowing his wild oats. He came home one night stinking of whiskey. I told him to go sleep in the barn. He just shoved me aside and said it was his house, and I was there to clean it."

"Well, I had a bit of spunk back then. I let him fall asleep on the bed and tied the covers around him. Then I took the coal shovel and began a-beating him in some tender places." She chuckled. "It was 9 days before he even tried to sit down as I remember, and 11 days before he got it accomplished." She laughed again.

"After that he just kinda kept a wary eye on me. He's never been quite sure just what I'm capable of. I like things that way. When I keep him guessing, he pays closer attention to me." And that was the way of their whole relationship. When Granny hollered jump at him, Pa Will looked a little sheepish, but he jumped.

So I always forgave Pa Will that moment of weakness at her funeral. I reckon he spent most of his life under Granny Mildred's thumb. And I just guess he was ready for a little rest. I'm not saying he didn't love her, mind. I think he loved her powerful. But his love was always tempered by a mite of fear, so I don't know that he was ever completely comfortable during her lifetime. And then when she went and disappeared from the coffin, don't you know, he thought, well, I 'spect he was too weary to go it any longer.

But as it turned out, he didn't have to. 'Cause, of course, she wasn't really gone. It's just that she was so short, she had fallen to the bottom of the coffin when they toted it up that hill. So when they opened the top of it for the viewing, nobody could see her. Uncle Herbert it was looked in and saw her down there. He reached down and fotched her back, and they brought the women around for that last look. Pa Will took his too and there were tears in his eyes, but I think they were tears of relief, if you know what I mean.