I was reminiscing with my cousin via text message the other day. That's how we reminisce these days with family members in this modern day of computers and mobile phones. We were discussing how her dad used to talk about some of the greatest family stories. My Uncle Dick must have been one of the more curious members of the Miller group. I would suspect he likely asked a lot of questions to the older generation while growing up since he always seemed to know some of these interesting family facts. He recalled some wonderful family events. A few of these were very funny stories that occurred in what would have been very sad family events.
One such story occurred immediately after the death of my great grandmother Rocha Leah Miller who died in Chicago, Illinois on 31 October 1931. She was my grandfather's mother and 79 years old when she passed away. From all accounts that I have read about her, it appears that she lived a very good and fulfilled life. Yet I am sure it was a very sad day when my grandfather Max and his brothers and sister had to make all the necessary arrangements for their mother's wake and funeral.
The time of my great grandmother's death was prior to the use of present day funeral homes where a deceased person is now waked in front of family and friends. From what I have been told, funeral directors usually arrived at the family's home and prepared the deceased for the wake and eventual funeral. The remains of the family member would lie in state usually in the parlor or sitting room of the deceased or family member's home. Even if the deceased was embalmed, the remains of the individual would sometimes be placed on top of block of dry ice that would be covered to keep the body somewhat preserved. According to my uncle, this was the case for Lena.
My uncle was only 6 years old at the time and I can imagine this was something he didn't experience very often up to this point in his young life. I am assuming at one point during the wake, the children including my uncle Dick, my dad and his brothers and sisters, were brought into the parlor to pay their respects to their grandmother Lena. This would have been a very solemn moment at any wake most likely in between prayers and the vigil. I am sure family members were watching these young children as they were escorted to view Lena's remains to pay their respects. My grandmother Lillian was also attempting to teach them the respectful manners that should be applied at a time of grieving among family and friends. Yet, for a young child this was certainly an experience he wasn't used to in his young life. Then suddenly feeling the difference in temperature from the dry ice as they approached their grandmother and possibly the mystical fog from the frozen draped bier would have probably been, well, too much for any child especially a 6 year old! According to my Uncle Dick, as they stood there paying their respects, he lifted up the covering exposing the dry ice and loudly asked, as diplomatically as a 6 year old could, "why grandma was laying on ice?!"
And, according to my uncle, my grandmother grabbed his hand and escorted him out of the parlor while he continued to ask "why grandma was laying on ice?" My Uncle Dick sadly admitted that was all he could remember of this otherwise somber event so you can probably guess the outcome of the story.
I can only imagine what appeared to be an embarrassing moment at the wake of this beloved mother and grandmother was probably met with a few grins by some of the family members who were in the room at the time. And so ended this embarrassing although funny story through the eyes of then a curious six year old.
My uncle had many other stories that he went to mention later on in his life. Some were humorous others were more serious. His stories were so good, I later started to refer to him as "The Family Storyteller!" He also told me that while he was a student in high school, he would draw pictures of Navy ships and day dream about joining the Navy.
Those pictures and dreams would eventually come to life. He proudly served for two years in the U.S. Navy during World War II after leaving high school and was later wounded while serving in the Pacific. My uncle, Richard F. Miller, passed away in 2007 and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery but his stories will always remain a part of the Miller family.
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