Jacobs Wake / The Ice Box 1917


After Pa's death his body was placed in, what we called, ''THE ICE BOX”, and returned to our home. My brothers cleared a place in the living room. The ice box with his body arrived about 1 pm. It was coffin shaped, insulated, and filled with ice. One had to replace the ice as necessary to keep it cold. It was completely enclosed except for a special opening over the departed's face which was opened whenever someone wanted to see the deceased. Bodies were not embalmed in those days just before burial, the body was removed by the undertaker and placed in a coffin.

People began to pour into the house. Except for close friends and extended family most visited briefly-- tried to comfort Ma, which was impossible, and then with a tousle of Tommy's curly hair or Dorthy's, and a smile they would approach one of us holding Stanley, ''Oh the poor baby, he w1l1 never know his father. He left so many young children! Etc..'' The countenance or each, I thought, was sincere--that of deep concern; and that heightened my insecurity.

It was all I could do to stay put; and usually escaped to the kitchen to help Mary or upstairs to visit and attend Grandmother, who had been moved into Ma's room so she could get more rest. My younger brothers were now in our room.

The following day there was more of the same. Family members such as Aunt Anna and her sisters spent most of their time in the kitchen preparing and serving food. The men in the family and their friends gathered in the shanty. These were pre-prohibition days when wine, beer, and whiskey were used frequently by the immigrant workers to make their undesirable and dangerous lives bearable. This was their halcyon, and much expected as the funeral of their fallen comrade.

At times Mary asked me to look after the younger children while she and Margaret looked after Grandmother. Stanley, although he was 9 months old was not walking and there was no room for crawling. Tommy was four years old, and although he was entertained by guests who fussed over him, and pressed an occasional coin into his hand, he had a way of disappearing-- and the search was on!

At night we were all exhausted, but... made it a point to gather around grandmother's bed to say our prayers. We were blindly going down a familiar road, even though we had long since passed the exit sign.

No, Aunt Helen never did come to the house. Even though she was Ma's only sister. and laved only a short distance from our house. The rift which I never understood, was so deep that even death itself couldn't relieve the bitterness. My cousin Rose, however, was constantly at my side, and whenever I had a problem, Aunt Helen was always very kind to me and willing to help. This kindness was extended to all my younger siblings. She always welcomed us into her home and offered us treats. Wisely, she never discussed the terrible hurt that separated the two.

The next morning, as sick as grandmother was, she asked to be taken downstairs to see her beloved son-in-law. She loved him just as much as we did. Alex walked down the stairs in front of Mike who carried Grandmother to the ice box. The lid was lifted. Tears flowed. She touched his cheek with her bony hand for one last caress. She insisted on kneeling. And then she prayed aloud, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Dear Jesus, I pray you will look after Jacob. He has been a good man and a good father. And please Lord Jesus took after this family.” Tears welled, and then she prayed silently--after which the bears disappeared and were replaced by a picture of serenity born of faith. Jacob was in a better place.