Sunday, November 01, 2009
There are some stories that start where they should have ended. This might be just that sort of a story. For instance, I might tell you that Junior Mantooth was a righteous man who lived a righteous life and died well. That would be perfectly true. I might tell you that two thousand souls attended his viewing and the streets of Newport City, Tennessee looked like a street carnival that day with all the folks who come down out of the mountains to pay their respects and to visit with friends they hadn’t seen in many a long while. That would be true, also.
When Junior died, Clarence Huff, the funeral director came to the house and respectfully conveyed the old boy to the funeral home where they embalmed him, dressed him in his finest suit and placed him in their white “Gone to Glory” model casket with the pewter fittings. The viewing was set for a Saturday with the memorial following. Then, he was taken back to the family home where the wake was to be held. An old-fashioned vigil was scheduled all through Saturday night with the burial on Sunday at the family cemetery next to his three wives, parents and deceased daughters. All of this was in accordance with Junior’s last wishes. He always said he wanted his final homecoming to be the biggest party the mountain had ever seen.
Junior’s family, whittled down to two widower brothers and a bachelor son, had been taking care of him during his long illness and as anyone knows, menfolk ain’t good for nothing around the sick. Still they managed best they could, making Junior’s final years as comfortable as they were able. But it meant they couldn’t go down to the dump and jaw with the other old boys, couldn’t bear hunt during the season, nor fish and drink like they wanted. So, not surprisingly, Uncles Boo and Jim, and son Ed, were a bit overwhelmed by the social whirlwind that was Junior Mantooth’s funeral.
All the widow women showed up with dishes of food when the boys had been living off cornbread and beanie-weenies. A few came and cleaned up the house for them. An endless string of visitors came by the house and signed the registry at the funeral home. Junior had been a popular man and a generous one. Rumor was he had made a fortune ushering geologists around the mountains. They also said Junior had hidden gold around the place in a fleet of old junk cars and that was why the boys never could get rid of all the junk around the property, so all those widow women were smiling especially bright for all three of the fellows.
The ladies from First Baptist, Edwina Assembly of God in Jesus’ Name and Bridgeport Church of God all got together to help coordinate the wake, following Junior on his final trip from town to his home after the memorial service. The daytime headlights trailing the hearse stretched for six miles on the drive back to the house. Buddy Don’s Barbeque catered the event and was waiting in the yard with three whole hogs for the mourners. The Heavenly Hay Gospel Choir performed. It did indeed look like Junior’s last wishes were observed to the letter and his going away party was a shindig to say the least.
By nine p.m., the crowd had thinned out and by eleven p.m. only Boo, Jim and Ed’s friends were left. Junior lay in his casket in peaceful repose. A few hip flasks were produced and they began toasting Junior and recalling his long life. It started around two o’clock in the morning after many shots of Popcorn Sutton’s finest corn likker.
“You know? I don’t think we ever got a picture of the four of us together.”
“Seems a shame, don’t it?” said Ed, a bleary tear rolling down his cheek. “It’s just been the four of us these past five years since Daddy had the stroke.”
Boo reached in the casket and smoothed the old man’s hair. “Ain’t seen Brother look so fine in a long time. Clarence did a real good job of fixing the droopy part of his face.”
“I know—let’s get him out of there and take a picture of the four of us.”
It was a bad idea whose time had come...
Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of "Junior Mantooth's Last Outing!"