The Awesome Funeral Home

Every now and then, a memory surfaces that would probably have been better left at the bottom of the psychic pond.

I’ll be cruising along, minding my own business, when from out of nowhere something will trigger a thought that leads to the memory of something completely random that hasn’t been in my mind for eons. Sometimes it’s a song that brings it up; other times it’s a smell. Contact from an old friend can make it happen too – it doesn’t happen often but when it does, it’s sometimes funny, sometimes unpleasant, and always remarkable.

From nowhere yesterday, I was hit with the memory of a field trip taken when I was in the first grade. The specifics surrounding the trip are vague and hazy, and I don’t really remember much about it. There’s probably a reason for that – it was a visit to a funeral home.

I know how it sounds, but I swear to God this is the honest truth: in 1974, the Scio, Oregon Board of Education approved a spring field trip for its elementary school students to take a journey to Albany and tour the Aasum Funeral Home. Whether the Aasum family pronounced it as “awesome” or not, that is how I’ve always said it — the “awesome” funeral home.

[Note – I assume the Board of Education was aware of the trip and signed off on it ahead of time. The idea that we were taken to a funeral home just on the casual whim of a couple of whackjob teachers is somehow more horrifying than the idea of taking 6 and 7 year olds to a funeral home in the first place.]

First graders. On a field trip. To a funeral home. I have a few glimpses of memory into that day — little snippets of mental video that somehow didn’t get erased in the thirty-some years since I took the tour of the awesome funeral home: A walk-through of the parlor with its curtains and carpet and seating for an audience of mourners. A sampling of caskets in varying colors and styles. A little landscaped area out a window that seemed to be a small oasis in the “big city” that Albany had seemed to me, being the small-town farm boy that I was. These are the few images that I retained from that visit.

Well, there’s one more. The main one. The one that hit me the other day from out of the blue. I can’t believe that all the years that I watched “Six Feet Under” on HBO, with all the funeral-home-related action it contained, I never flashed back to this memory. It’s the main image I would think of when I would reflect on that bizarre field trip.

Linoleum tile. I was in a post office yesterday and I happened to notice the floor was covered with linoleum tile. Nothing unusual about that, but for some reason -perhaps it was the color, perhaps just a trick of the light- it reminded me of the linoleum tile that we sat on that day in first grade as we ate our sack lunches on our field trip to the awesome funeral home. We sat on the floor and ate our sack lunches, the linoleum tile cold underneath us, cold like a tomb. Like death.

Did we actually eat our lunch in the embalming room?

I can’t say with 100% certainty. I think perhaps I blocked it out, for the memory does not want to linger at the front of my mind. I don’t remember anything else about the trip and so it’s possible that I was so shocked and horrified at being surrounded by the tools of the undertaker’s trade that my mind just shut down and switched over to safety mode.

Maybe there was a kitchen area there, and we were eating our lunch in that room – a kitchen that was floored in linoleum. But I remember the room being big, and cold, and “sterile” somehow. Maybe a kitchen would be like that, and maybe funeral homes routinely have big industrial-type kitchens for the activities that are held there – though I don’t know that memorials at funeral homes generally include a lot of cooking and baking in their services.

My mind thinks we ate our sack lunches sitting on the cold linoleum tile floor of the embalming room, and that is why that memory is kept in the restricted section of my brain.

Suddenly, my penchant for horror stories and zombie flicks and tales of the dead and undead alike seems to make a lot more sense to me. The seed of that macabre tree was planted years ago, on the day a yellow school bus carted me off to spend an afternoon having lunch in a mortician’s lair.