Funerals

Some sage has said, 'If you show me how you treat the dead, I can tell you the quality of the society.'  In our area the dead and their family were with the utmost deference.  To my knowledge, in the thirties there was no funeral chapel in all of Blount County.  There was a funeral home in Oneonta, but this was just a building where the embalming process was performed.  They also stocked caskets.   When a death occurred, the funeral house was contacted.  They came in hearse and carried the deceased to the funeral home.  There the embalming and placing in the casket took place.  The body was then carried to the home of the deceased where it was put on display with the casket open.

As soon as the death was known in the community, the women began to prepare special dishes, which they carried to the home of the deceased.  Visitors sat all night in the room with the body.  This continued until the time of the funeral came.  The hearse would arrive to pick up the body.  A sad and tearful period came when the body was removed from the home for the last time.  When the hearse arrived at the church, the body was carried to the front and was put on display with the coffin open.

People attending the funeral could walk down front and view the body.  After the songs and the sermon, the casket was still open.  Beginning with the back row in the church, a procession began as they marched down front, passed the casket, and returned to their seats.  this continued row by row until the entire congregation had passed in review.  The front rows always had the close family members.  It was a heartbreaking scene as they said their last good-byes publicly.  The songs were also heartbreaking , as 'In the Sweet Bye and Bye' and 'Shall We Gather at the River. '  Attending a funeral was a highly emotional experience  even if you barely knew the deceased.

Fortunately, grave sites at the cemetery were all free.  A family could just go and stake enough spaces in an empty section for the entire family.  My family did claim spaces at the Wynnville Cemetery, where my father, mother, and baby sister were buried.

People responded to the need of the grieving family in many ways.  Singers made it a point to attend, adding their voices.  Any one meeting a funeral procession to pull their conveyance to the side of the road until the entire group passed.

By actual count, my mother, who died at age 93, had been an emotional participant in some thirty-five funerals, mainly of the type described above.  Perhaps her description of the death of her grandmother will be of interest.

The grandmother of Lillian Smith Weems had tuberculosis.  Unfortunately, there was no for the disease at that time.  In preparation for any for any death that might occur in the family, they had prepared and assembled a wooden box, which was stored in the barn.  When her grandmother died, she was dressed and placed in that box.  Since she was to be buried in the cemetery at Aurora, which was perhaps twenty-five miles away, a part of the family left immediately in a buggy to go to Aurora to tell the family of her death and prepare the grave.  The body and box were placed in the family wagon, and the almost all-day trip began.

My mother's father had gone to Birmingham in a wagon to sell produce, and there was no way to notify him of her passing.  My mother remembered walking behind the wagon on the eight to ten hour trip, but most of the time she rode.  This occurred in about 1916, as she thought she was about eight years old.  How times have changed!

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