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“Hemlock Stories” by Ira Briggs

The Gravediggers

By Ira Briggs

8 April 2015

The majority of my relatives are buried in Livonia’s hilly terraced Harder Cemetery. Early period cemeteries were often established on hilly terrains to achieve proper drainage. Poor access for excavating equipment and a wet spring hinders the use of a backhoe in such situations. Uncle Burnell’s passing took place in the spring, warranting the use of picks and shovels by family members in order to dig his grave.

A local funeral home was secured to provide a vault for the grave and a fake green grass tarp to cover the dirt during Uncle Burnell’s service. A few days after the service, I returned the tarp to the funeral home. Upon entering the front main entrance, I discovered that the front door was unlocked and proceeded inside. I yelled out a couple of hellos but didn’t receive a response. At this point I was anticipating Boris Karloff or Vincent Price coming from the viewing room to greet me. I hastily exited the front door, determined to rid myself of the tarp.

“The funeral home staff must be out back washing the hearse,” I reasoned. “That would be an appropriate place to leave the tarp.” The garage door was open, but the hearse was parked inside. Seeing my reflection in its glossy paint made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Regardless, I forged ahead to the funeral home’s rear entry door.

Again, I discovered an unlocked door and proceeded inside.

Cautiously entering the room, I looked to the left and discovered that it was where they prepared the bodies for calling hours. As I scanned to my right, to my horror I discovered a women’s body on a stainless steel table. The average person would have made a large deposit in their undergarment at this point, but being the determined adventurous type, I regained my composure. Upon viewing the women I was calmed, because I knew her! Her name was Esther; she was the sweetest lady from my hometown. I recall reading about her passing in the paper about the same time as my Uncle Burnell’s.

I approached yet another door, with what appeared to be two doorbells to its right side. I pressed one of the doorbells, but instead of ringing, I heard the mechanical chain sound of a door lowering. Seeing the garage door was still open, I threw the tarp on the floor by the hearse and made a hasty departure.

That night I had wild thoughts— “Perhaps one of the staff members was cleaning the crematorium and I inadvertently lowered the door on him. Or worse, the doorbell activated the burning gasses for cremation. . . . I’ll have to leave town, relocate to another state to avoid humiliation and scandal. I’ll be ostracized. People will pity me and others will mock me behind my back. They’ll call me names like “Sparky,” “The Reaper” or “Smokey”. I’ll never be able to use my George Foreman grill again or attend family barbeques!”

The next morning, I resolved to drive by the funeral home in hopes of relieving my anxiety. As I slowly approached the location, I was stunned to see a sheriff’s car and many vehicles.

I had better pull in and give myself up, I thought. “It was just a horrible freak accident; it looked like a regular doorbell!”

Fortunately, before I made a fool of myself by confessing to the crime, I realized that the sheriff’s car and the other vehicles were there for Esther’s funeral!

God bless you, Esther.

Editor’s Note: Ira Briggs is a well digger, writer and ARC Living Skills Assistant and a University of Rochester employee who hails from Hemlock. He writes short stories from his memories of the people and events of Hemlock NY.