(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge:
Early Birds at the Funeral Parlor·
It’s Friday, September 23, 1927, in Hutchinson, Kansas, at the Johnson & Sons Funeral Home, 134 Sherman Avenue, east. People are arriving for the funeral service of Harvey E. Albrecht.
Mary Adella Albrecht, widow of Harvey Albrecht, looked in the mirror before exiting the funeral home’s bathroom. Out loud, she said, “I can do this.”
As Mary opened the door, she was ambushed—abruptly challenged—by sister-in-law, Grace Vian.
“What’s got into you, Della?” asked Grace.
“What do you mean?” said Mary, answering Grace’s question with a question.
“We’re all sorry for your loss,” said Grace, “but you know better than most, that wives should submit themselves to their husbands.”
“You don’t know about our marriage,” Mary replied. “Now is not the time for your accusations. The service will be starting soon.”
“You were not silent; it is your failing,” stated Grace.
“Last week, when Harvey pushed Pearl down to the floor, I decided our family needed to be apart from Harvey.”
“Did you at least consider talking to Brother Luckett about your marriage?” asked Grace.
“Harvey forbid it;” answered Mary, “he said it was private.”
“Well, were all shocked by his death,” said Grace. “You know he was our oldest. We’re devastated. What of the girls? How will you raise them without Harvey?”
“They’re not babies anymore,” replied Mary.
“That’s for sure,” said Grace.
“What do you mean by that?” asked Mary.
“Pearl is fifteen, but she wears her hair like a boy and dresses like a fallen angel.”
“Grace,” said Mary, “you’re out of line! I’m sure you’re upset at losing your brother. We have a funeral service to complete. If you want to criticize the way Harvey and I have raised our girls, at least wait until his body is in the ground.”
“Did you hear the fight last night?” asked William H. Johnson, co-owner with his brother of Johnson & Sons Funeral Home.
“I missed it,” answered Sheriff Fay Brown, “although I heard that people at the fairgrounds were kept informed, blow by blow, over the loudspeakers.”
“In the seventh round, Dempsey almost regained his heavyweight crown,” said Johnson. “Tunney was down for more than ten seconds, but the referee enforced a new rule. He didn’t start the count until Tunney was in a neutral corner.”
“It’s a tough way to make money,” said the sheriff.
“The same could be said for your work,” Johnson replied.
“Hah!” said Brown. “Not everyone would want your job where you collect and prepare bodies.”
“Like you, I see my work as serving the public,” said the undertaker. “I’ve been doing this ever since I was a boy. First, my father taught me to build caskets.”
“Speaking of caskets,” I’ve been meaning to ask you something,” said Brown. “Is it true that in the flood of 1903 your father paddled a casket home to keep from wadding through the high water?”
Johnson smiled as he remembered, “That’s one of those tall tales that’s actually true. The coffin you refer to was lined with lead. It was heavy, but water tight.”
“Thanks for being here with me,” said Pearl Albrecht, 15, to her friend, Delbert Wright, 14. “You’re a true friend.”
“You’re welcome,” said Delbert. “By the way, you look nice.”
“Thanks, mother gave Jewel and me her sight and smell test before we left home. Obviously, no makeup or fashionable clothes today!”
Delbert said, “My other choices were to go to school, or I could be at the State Fairgrounds right now listening to the Ku Klux Klan’s imperial wizard give a speech.”
“I didn’t know you were interested in the Knights of the KKK,” said Pearl.
“Interested, but not supportive. As you know, our family is Catholic. The Klan considers us un-American and un-Christian.”
“In school, my teacher said the Klan of today isn’t the same Klan that lynched people right after the Civil War,” said Pearl. “Also, it’s been losing power since Governor Allen took them to court. Do you feel safe here in Hutchinson?”
“In school, they talk about how we have freedom of religion,” said Delbert, “but when the KKK has their state convention in Hutch, along with a parade down Main Street, it makes me wonder how many people actually believe in freedom of religion for those that aren’t Protestant.”
“I’m sorry you don’t feel safe here.” said Pearl.
“Pearl, because of you, I feel welcome. I’m lucky that when we moved to town, my parents chose a house on your block.”
“One person can make a difference in another person’s life,” said Pearl. “You’ve helped me more than you’ll ever know.”
“I may go watch the parade tonight,” said Delbert.
“The KKK parade? Why would you do that?”
“The Klansmen will march in their regalia, but without masks,” said Delbert. “I’m curious how many people I’ll recognize.”
“Mrs. Sheriff . . .” said Jewel Albrecht.
“Honey, call me Cora,” said Cora Brown, matron and cook at the Reno County Jail.
“Okay, Cora,” said Jewel. “I’m glad the funeral service is here, not at our meetinghouse.”
“What’s the difference to you?” asked Cora.
“I didn’t see daddy’s body at home, and I’d like to keep my peaceful memories of our Brethren meetinghouse. It shouldn’t make any difference, but that’s how I’m feeling right now.”
“Goodbyes are hard,” said Cora.
“Mr. Johnson let us say goodbye to daddy, but I understand we’ll do it again formerly here and at Fairlawn Cemetery.”
“My father died five years ago when I was 28,” advised Cora. “I remember the goodbyes. Being older than you are now, I was still surprised. I mean, I knew his death was inevitable. He was 65. Like you, I have a sister who will always understand what it’s like to lose a parent.”
“Even though Jewel and I fight, we do love one another.”
“I expect you’ll be even closer now,” said Cora.
“Will you and mama stay friends now that we’re moving back home?” asked Jewel.
“I’m counting on it,” said Cora. “We’ll invite you over and you can keep us up-to-date on how you’re doing. But, don’t be a stranger. Call or stop by anytime.”
“Cora, you and Fay are special people. I had no idea that I’d meet the sheriff and his wife, and we’d become friends.”
“Jewel, you and your sister are just beginning your lives. Your father’s death may seem like a set-back for you, but his departure can help make you stronger.”
“I’d rather not go through this to be stronger,” said Jewel, “but we don’t have any choice. Brother Luckett explained that God doesn’t make bad things happen in order to test us. He said that God expects people to help one another. That’s what you and the sheriff have done. Even though you’re both incredibly busy with responsibilities, you welcomed us to your residence, and have cared for us like family.
As Cora put her arm around her young friend’s shoulder, she said, “You may not be a blood relative, but you’re family now.”
Jewel smelled a faint odor of perfume from Cora and thought of how the Church of the Brethren frowned upon it, but they didn’t know Cora.
“I want to be like you,” said Jewel. “When I grow up, I want to be confident enough and loving enough to welcome strangers into my life. I want to make a difference, one person at a time.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.