Sunday, January 22, 2017

Field Trip: The National Museum of Funeral History

  1. The week before last several members of my widows' group joined a tour to the National Museum of Funeral History.   Funeral history? A field trip for widows? Yep, and it was a great experience. The only museum in the country devoted to funerals, this place isn't depressing or ghoulish; it's fascinating.

To start with, we watched a video from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  The military men and women who guard the tomb day and night perform a precise ritual--21 steps, stand for 21 seconds, meet and transfer rifles.  Those chosen for this prestigious post must promise not to smoke, drink or curse FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES!  We learned that during Hurricane Sandy, the guards were dismissed from duty, but refused to leave, standing guard through the storm.

The museum has an amazing collection of hearses.  Below is the one used for Princess Diana.  We also saw the one that carried both Presidents Ford and Reagan.  
There was a Japanese hearse that could have doubled as a carnival wagon, it was so extravagantly decorated.  There was a child's hearse (see below) and a funeral "bus" large enough to carry the casket and all the mourners.  Unfortunately, something was wrong with the axles and it overturned so it was a once-in-a-lifetime (or death-time) experience.
We saw elaborate caskets, some with bizarre stories.  One was a casket made for three.  The family's only child died and the parents planed that when the casket was ready, the father would shoot the mother and then kill himself so they could all be buried together.  By the time the casket was done, they had changed their minds, never claimed it, and even tried to get their money back.  We saw a glass casket (!) and one constructed for a trade show and plastered with coins and bills to get customers' attention--not so they would purchase a casket but so they would pay attention to the finish on it.

We learned about Victorian mourning practices.  When a husband died, the widow was supposed to, mourn for three years.  The first year she was to wear nothing but black, no color at all; the next two years she could gradually add a little color, but not much.  If a wife died, however, the widower was supposed to mourn for only three months!

We saw an exhibit about the life and death of a Pope, one about Egyptian burial practices and one about Lincoln's funeral.  On the train carrying his body to Illinois was also the body of his beloved son, Willie, who was removed from his crypt and buried next to his father.

If you're in Houston for the Super Bowl, take an afternoon off and visit the museum.  It's fascinating.  And if you live in Houston, be sure to drive out to see it.  It's one of Houston's unexpected treasures.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Quote for the Week...and for the New Year

May the path you take during this new year be one that takes you farther than ever before.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Saying Goodbye to 2016

Happy New Year, everyone!
As I look back on 2016, all I can say is it's been a crazy year.

Most memorable event/s/ of my life:  I moved three times, but I'm finally settled in my new two-bedroom apartment at Brazos Towers.  I'm on the 4th floor.  No more worrying about floods!

Most memorable national event:  The election--enough said.

Best sports event:  The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

Best movie I saw:  Remember

Favorite TV:  Designated Survivor and The Voice

Best museum visit:  The Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta

Best play/s/:  Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies 

Best book:  Not many this year, but The Train to Crystal City was my favorite.

Weirdest book:  I'm Thinking of Ending Things

Best new restaurant I tried:  Weights and Measures

May 2017 bring peace, health and love.

Best wishes,

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve Wisdom

Sign seen in a store window at the Houston Galleria:

He who procrastinates
gets the best deals.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Father's Loving Gifts Gives Us an American Christmas Classic

Note:  My favorite holiday story--I post this every year.  Enjoy!

A guy named Bob May, depressed and broken-hearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilly December night. His 4 year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap, quietly sobbing.  Bob's wife Evelyn was dying of cancer. Little Barbara couldn't understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad's eyes and asked, "Why isn't Mommy just like everybody else's mommy?" Bob's jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears.  Her question brought waves of grief but also of anger.

It was the story of Bob's life.  Life always had to be different for Bob.  Being small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys.  He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he'd rather not remember.

From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in. Bob did complete college and married his loving wife and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at Montgomery 
Ward during the Great Depression. Then he was blessed with his little girl. But his happiness was short-lived.  Evelyn's bout with cancer stripped them of their savings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums.  Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938. 

Bob struggled to give hope to his child for whom he couldn't even afford to buy a Christmas gift.  But if he couldn't buy a gift, he was determined to make one--a storybook.

Bob had created the animal character in his own mind and told the animal's story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope.  Again and again Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling.  Who was the character?  What was the story about?

The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form.  The character he created was an outcast like he was.  The name of the character?  A little reindeer named Rudolph with a big shiny nose.

Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day.

But the story doesn't end there.  The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May a nominal fee to purchase the right to print the book.  Wards went on to print the book and distribute it to children visiting Santa Claus in their stores.  By 1946 Wards had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  That same year a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print an updated version of the book.  In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Wards returned all the rights back to Bob.

The book became a best seller.  Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, now remarried with a growing family, became wealthy from the story he created to comfort his daughter.

But the story doesn't end there.  Bob's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation of Rudolph.  Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, it was recorded by Gene Autrey.  "Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer" was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of "White Christmas." The gift of love that Bob May created for his daughter so long ago kept on returning to bless him again and again.  And Bob May learned the lesson, just like Rudolph, that being different isn't so bad.  In fact, being different can be a blessing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


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