By Charles Cooper
Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.
Are you ready for another funeral home story? If the answer is yes, my old friend, Jim Allen, sent me one recently. I had written that I was the last person left that had worked at both Newman-Gardner and Wa-ter Valley/Henry funeral homes. Jim said he had worked for a short time for Hamric in 1952 so technically I was correct in as much as I had worked for both.
However, I had left the the Valley at the time Jim worked for Hamric and wasn’t aware of the fact and I do apologize for the omission.
Jim said at the time Ham and Dorothy Jane still had the flower shop in the little building that later housed the business office. He said that Jane was a baby and Bill Morgan was the set up and maintenance man. A Mr. Hervey had died in a hospital in Meridian and Ham wanted Jim and Bill to go there and pick up the body.
Ham still had a Chrysler conversion funeral car/am-bulance that he used for out-of-town trips. The first trip I ever made with Hamric before I actually worked there was in that same vehicle when it was new. Weller Bros. body shop was then at the corner of Union and Bellevue in Memphis, and they had been turning out those conversions for several years.
Chrysler had a semi-automatic transmission that most people called a “tippy-toe” because you put it in drive and when it reached a certain speed you raised your foot and it went into the top gear, much like the overdrive transmissions that were popular at that time, but as usual I digress.
Ham gave them a selected route–Hwy. 7 to Hwy. 51 south to Winona, east on Hwy. 82 to Mayhew Junction, then south on Hwy. 45 to Meridian. Jim pointed out that it was less miles and a time saver to go to Bruce to Okolona, and south to Meridian but Ham was adamant and wanted them to go as he selected to avoid the bad roads and return the same way.
They started out with Jim driving and Bill riding shotgun and everything was fine until they got to Acton, west of Starkville on Hwy. 82 and they ran into the worst storm either of them had ever seen.
It was raining so hard and the wind so strong that he stopped in the highway and then the rain stopped and the wind would lift the front of the vehicle up and slam it down not once but several times. Bill told him, “I can’t stay in this car I’m gonna get out and lie in the ditch.” Jim told him, “Bill, don’t you dare get out of this car, if it gets blown away you better be in here with me.”
What they didn’t know was a tornado had struck north of Starkville damaging a drive-in movie and a trailer park. There were tree limbs, cars and other debris in the road and a Mississippi Highway patrolman flagged them down and ordered them to take some injured people to the hospital in Starkville. After making two trips they were allowed to go on their way to Meridian where they picked up the body of Mr. Hervey and headed home by the same route they had come.
It was very late when they got back to the funeral home and Ham and Dorothy Jane were frantic, thinking they had been in an accident. He explained about the storm and the hospital trips. Ham told him that sometimes you do things as a public service without being paid.
That reminded me of an incident when I was working for the old National Funeral Home in Memphis. We had two Canary yellow Cadillac ambulances which we used strictly for trips to and from the hospital—no emergency calls.
We were returning from an ambulance trip and at the corner of Union and Cooper a crowd had gathered around a man lying in the street. We stopped and offered our assistance and learned the man had been hit by a car while crossing the street. We could see he had a compound fracture of one leg and was in terrible pain. We loaded him on our gurney and were putting him in the ambulance when a fire engine red Cadillac ambulance came up with red lights flashing and siren wailing. It was Thompson Brothers and they lived for emergency ambulance trips.
I happened to recognize the driver and told him, “Parker, we’re not trying to take you trip, we didn’t know anyone had called you.” He was gracious and we carried the young man to Methodist Central ,which was the closest hospital.
So Jim, we both know sometimes you do a service without thinking about getting paid. A side bar here: Parker later went to work at National and we became good friends. Jim said he had other experiences working for Hamric and I hope you’ll share them with us as I really appreciated this one.
Now you see why I’m always asking for input from all of you out there. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.