Sunday, December 6, 2009

Martin the Mortician

Martin wasn’t proud of what he did for a living because in 1960’s Louisiana there was a stigma attached to the dead and those who dealt with them. Martin had worked at the funeral home for a couple of years. He hadn’t planned to have a career in the business but times were tough and you took jobs wherever you could. He had performed most of the jobs available in the mortuary except for embalming. He was apprenticing for his license but had not yet had the opportunity to embalm. He for the most part enjoyed his work behind the scenes preparing the bodies for viewing, arranging the flowers and setting up extra seating for the viewings of deceased dignitaries.

The family that Martin worked for owned the big old mansion house that had been converted into a mortuary. The house had living quarters upstairs which they graciously allowed Martin and his family to occupy as part of his compensation. Martin’s wife, Letty, didn’t mind living above the funeral home and loved using the large kitchen and patio to cook. She would whip up beignets or Etoufee with garlic bread. Her family were farm people and cooking and eating were their favorite past time. She loved to cook for her man and would make enough to feed most of the small town where they lived. She was most famous for her barbecue sauce and ribs. Any given summer Saturday afternoon would find Letty in front of a big barrel cut in half with smoke billowing out of the make shift stove pipe slathering a rack of pork ribs with her special sauce.

She guarded both her grill and her recipe like a pit bull with a bone. No one, not even Martin, knew her special ingredients.

Martin and Clyde, the resident embalmer, were cleaning up the prep room when the phone rang. Clyde picked up the receiver and said “Reechard’s Funeral Parlor, this is Clyde, how may I hep you?” He turned and motioned to Martin who got a pen and paper and handed it to Clyde. “Uh-huh, yes, I see. No, no problem et all. We will retrieve the client tut sweet. Au revoir.” He made a few notes and then looked up at Martin “well I guess we gots us a pick-up.” He grabbed the keys from the stainless basin and the two donned their jackets even though it was ninety degrees and ninety percent humidity. They joked and laughed on their way out to the wagon.

Clyde slid behind the wheel while Martin checked to make sure they had their kit in the back. They arrived on the scene. Both men wiped the smiles off their faces then disembarked their vehicle. They rolled the gurney toward the accident taking in the whole scene. There in the middle of the road was what was left of a motorcycle and in the swamp was the offending vehicle. They walked a little further and found their passenger.

The men worked with skill and dignity making sure they packed up everything that might pertain to the body. They spoke with the highway patrolman and signed his paperwork, loaded the sheet covered body into the back of the wagon and headed back to the mortuary. It was a job they performed routinely but it never became routine. They never forgot that the reason they were there was because someone had died. Their jobs weighed heavy upon them and they would often expel that weight in the form of inappropriate humor but never in front of anyone just between the two of them.

They were getting close to the funeral home when they smelled the familiar scent. Clyde took a deep breath and said “man oh man that smells good.” Martin sniffed and replied “dang it I done toll Letty that I had fresh meat comin. I guess she done dug sumin out of de deep freeze.” Clyde knew what Martin meant but since they had just picked up the recently deceased he found it a bit funny if not a whole lot inappropriate. Okay he really found it a little bit inappropriate and a whole lot funny and he began to laugh. He laughed so hard he missed the drive and jumped the curb. Deciding it didn’t much matter the men left the hearse where it was and unloaded the dead man and wheeled him into the basement which doubled as the morgue.

They knew there wasn’t much they could do for the poor guy but there was a rack of Letty’s ribs waiting for them they put him in the cooler and headed upstairs. They found Letty in the kitchen putting the finishing spices in her potato salad and boiling up some tea. “You boys lookin fer sumin” she asked in her sweet southern drawl. Martin kissed his wife’s cheek and said “some of your ribs and an extra heapin of dat tater salad. Me and Clyde jest got back from a run. I done tole ju dat Momma and dem were butcherin a hawg dis week and I’d bring you some fresh meat.” Letty smiled and said “why do you dink I made deese ribs? I’s cleanin out dat deep freeze to make room fer one of your daddy’s hawgs.” Clyde stuck his nose down close to the plate of ribs and took a long inhale “Letty ain’t nobody in dis whole world make ribs like you.” Letty smiled and replied “you boys go on back to your work. I’ll bring dem up to you when dey is done.”

They two men did as they were told and went back to cleaning up the prep room in anticipation of upcoming viewing. They scrubbed the tables and swept the floors and brought up the unfortunate motorcyclist. Then they heard a knock on the door. “Come on in” Martin hollered, but the knocking continued. He opened the door to find Letty standing with a heaving tray. She had loaded it with racks of ribs, succulent and dripping with sauce, potato salad, fried okra and sweet sliced tomatoes. She had tall glasses full of ice cold sweet tea with mint leaves dispersed perfectly through the glass. She sashayed into the room sat the tray down and gave each man a peck and said “I’ll leave you to it. I gots to go see Mamaw down at de home and take her some of my beignets.”

The men sat down next to the occupied gurney at the steel table and began dishing up the food. Letty had liberally coated the ribs in her sauce, but that was never enough. She also supplied each man with his own bowl of sauce in which to dip the ribs.

 Martin picked up the first rib, dipped it in sauce and savored every bite. The flavors exploded in his mouth and he moaned as he looked up and saw Clyde performing the same ritual. They would dip the rib in sauce, bring it to their lips and then let out a groan, it was animalistic and guttural. They didn’t give another thought to the man lying under the sheet. They would have shared had he been able to partake but since he couldn’t they didn’t bother. They instead just got down to the business of eating those ribs.

They didn’t stop to use their napkin; they didn’t even stop to sip their tea. The plan was to devour the ribs first, wipe up then eat the rest of the food. Neither man heard the door when it opened. It wasn’t until they had let out the groan and heard the scream did they realize anyone else had entered the room. There standing in the door way was the dead man’s family and there behind the bloody sheet covered gurney sat Martin and Clyde faces covered in the deep red barbecue sauce.


qandlequeen said...

*snort* Reminds me of my ex's description of a garbageman - "$8 per hour and all you can eat"

Girly Stuff said...

Now how in the world did you come by this story?

Brian Miller said...

haha. that was amazing!

i am hungry for ribs now though...

LisaPie said...

I love it! You do spin a good yarn, Gladys. : )

Kelly said...

I should not have read this while drinking a Diet Coke. Diet Coke HURTS when it comes shooting out your nostrils.

Katherine Roberts Aucoin said...

That is hysterical. You had me hanging on every word!

terri said...

I'll bet that's the last time they ate in the prep room!