In case you’ve been under a rock somewhere, a lot has happened this week, none of which I’m going to address (thank goodness, everyone says . . .). That doesn’t mean I didn’t consider it, but I’m tired of COVID (although that will probably come up on another day because it’s a pandemic and such and a fair number of us can’t seem to behave ourselves) and I’m not touching politics with a 39 ½ foot pole (a not so subtle reference to the Grinch).
Then it snowed . . .
Granted, it wasn’t much of a snow—by some standards, a mere dusting. And it didn’t last long, just long enough for the milk and eggs and bread to magically disappear so everyone could have French toast. The roads never really iced over and the trees never really glistened in the sun, compliments of the frozen stuff, but it was still wonderful . . . a gentle reminder that the world can be quietly covered in beauty from time to time.
But it also reminded me of another day, a hundred years ago (all right, maybe closer to 55 or 60) when, as Bing Crosby so eloquently reminded us (in the words of Burke, Burke, and Webster):
“Every winter breeze that scurries
Sends the snowflakes up in flurries
It’s the good old sentimental season when
Folks put runners on their surreys
They forget about their worries
And a man becomes a boy once again”
They forget about their worries, and a man becomes a boy once again.
In that era I just referenced . . . decades ago when I was a young child . . . we had snows. Real snows. The kind that stayed on the ground forever . . . where you could build a dozen bigger than life snowmen and have snow cream for a week and make all the snow angels. And after one of these monumental snows, I stood in the parking lot behind the old funeral home on Main Street in Savannah and watched as the funeral directors—grown men that included my father—took a set of metal covers from the basement and went sledding down the sidewalk that ran beside what was then the First United Methodist Church and what has since become a vacant lot next to the replacement First United Methodist Church.
For those of you unfamiliar with the funeral merchandise of years gone by, a set of metal covers consisted of two sheets of corrugated metal, slightly arched, that could be laid over the top of a casket or a wooden box. They were designed to keep the soil from landing on top of whatever was beneath them as the grave was filled and to help support the weight of said soil once the filling was complete. It wasn’t a permanent solution like a vault, but it helped for a while.
But if you turned them upside down and positioned them so the arch was in the front and back rather than the sides, then they made a fantastic sled. The ridges ran in the same direction you were traveling, so there was no drag, and you could actually hold on to the front so you weren’t solely dependent on an excellent sense of balance and massive core strength (which, let’s get real, none of them had) to remain upright and in motion.
I know I’ve seen a picture of them, standing at the top of the hill, awaiting their turn at the helm. But I never found it, despite rummaging through all the pictures left behind by my parents. I did find an abundance of folks I don’t know (side note, people—label your pictures so when you’re gone someone knows if they’re looking at a family member or a random stranger) but not the famed sledding picture I so eagerly sought. Maybe the only place that picture exists is in my noggin’. As I stood in the parking lot, freezing my little fingers off and watching with glee, the image of these grown men behaving as children etched itself in my memory and still resides there after all these years. If only for a moment, men whose lives often revolved around the loss and grief of Death were allowed to become boys once again.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.