Lucy Mae Hollis has been part of our family for over fifty years now. During those years, mother and Lucy Mae have helped each other a great many times. I, of course, remember only the most dramatic occasions and most particularly I remember the time Pickering Head had those two dead babies at Sneadlin's funeral home.
Lucy Mae was the one that phoned mother for help, but the help wasn't really for her this time. It was for Lottie, Lucy Mae's best friend.
Lucy Mae was phoning from Reed's gas station about a block from Sneadlin's Funeral Home. To my consternation, mother hadn't seen fit to pass on the information that Lottie's house had burned down over the weekend, and that her two babies were killed in the fire. This was the kind of thing my mother never told me. Mother always thought I had a morbid turn, and I suppose she saw herself as not feeding this unhealthy and definitely unladylike obsession.
Of course, the minute I heard the words "dead" and "babies" and "funeral home" in the same few sentences, I homed in to the conversation like radar.
There are a lot of peculiar things about this story, and one of them is that Lottie's two babies were even taken to Sneadlin's Funeral Home. Sneadlin's was a white funeral home, and if there was any life function in the 1950's south that was more segregated than religion, it was death.
The only thing I can figure out is that they had somehow wound up there because it was an accident, a fire, and somebody had gotten mixed up, and phoned the wrong funeral home.
But even then, it seems like somebody would have just phoned a black mortician and told him to come get them. It doesn't make sense.
Mother's absolutely no help with this issue. She refuses to talk about it and when pressed, she denies it even happened.
But, I remember as clear as I remember the color of the Catawba river that Lottie's two precious babies were left in the cold waxy hands of Pikering Head.
The problem Lucy Mae was phoning about was that Pickering wouldn't let Lottie look at the bodies.
He said he'd already closed the coffins; that the bodies were too badly burned and that she didn't need to see them. Pickering being white, of course thought he knew better than Lottie what she needed. He also probably thought that once this poor black woman was told with some authority by a white man that she didn't need to see her own dead children, she would go away and let it be.
But Pickering Head didn't figure on the combination of Mother and Lucy Mae Hollis.
Lottie was broken hearted when she found out she couldn't see her babies. She walked home to grieve and wait for the funeral, but Lucy Mae was at her house to hear the story.
Now, Lucy Mae Hollis didn't have that much to say on a day-to-day basis, but she was about as determined, when she got her mind set, as anybody I've ever seen, except my mother.
Lucy Mae and Lottie walked the five miles back to Sneadlin' Funeral Home and knocked on the side door. They were not allowed to go in the front. Pickering Head, the director of the funeral home, opened the door.
"What ya'll want?" He asked.
"We wants to see the chillin." Lucy Mae told him.
Pickering Head pointed to Lottie. "I already tol' Lottie, those children are beyond recognizing. Now she got no business bothering us and upsetting herself more than she's already upset by pawing all over them."
"She their mother." Lucy Mae said, standing firm on her two enormous flat feet.
"Now, ya'll go on away from here before I call the law." Pickering said. " I already explained it to you. Now, git!"
Lucy Mae told mother later that he said "Get" like he was talking to a bunch of dogs.