WAKES, WILLIES AND SHENANIGANS
By the nature of their definitions, the words wakes and shenanigans should never be used in the same breath. While one word epitomizes sadness, the other suggests tomfoolery.
Before I relate this story of Branch in the 1950s, let it be known that because I was the tomboy of the family, I was considered to be somewhat bolder than the average girl. To tell the truth, I was always scared of the dark and of things that go bump in the night. The sight of a dead body terrified me and I wouldn’t walk solo past a graveyard for a million dollars.
However, I guess the curiosity of a child (and peer pressure) is stronger than fear, for my dread of corpses, coffins and the like never kept me home when a wake was under way in the community.
Every person of Branch who departed this earth when I was a child, was waked (never heard it called “viewed”) in the parlour of his or her own home. If I live to be a hundred, I will remember the “wake room” scene.
The dim surroundings, with blinds pulled all the way down, the smell of the blessed candle and the darkly clad body of the deceased, were enough to invoke the willies in any normal child. While relating this tale, I will not identify the dearly departed for fear that some relative may accuse me of disrespecting the dead. If I were so charged, I wouldn’t know how to deny the accusation.
Because parlors were quite small, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the lifeless body was always too close for comfort. But there is safety in numbers and I always attended those affairs in the company of comrades. In the particular instance of which I write, my associates included a male trickster or two.
The central character of this story was a lady who had died after some eighty odd years of good living, church going and rosary reciting. In keeping with Irish custom, her beautiful white rosary beads were entwined around her clasped fingers. The whole setting exemplified perfect peace, a peace which was shattered when the late Mrs. X’s rosary beads suddenly began to shake, rattle and roll in her still hands.
One of us yelled, setting off a chain reaction of pushing, tripping, jumping, knocking down candlesticks and eventually getting evicted from the house by agitated adults. In a fit of laughter, nervous hysteria, and simple childlike fun, we speedily exited the premises, hoping that our parents wouldn’t hear about our misadventure.
Although we had little trouble isolating the perpetrator of the act, we never really figured out how he got the rosary beads dancing in the coffin. We later concluded that performing such a prank in that wake room could be executed quite easily. All it took was a piece of wire, a mischief maker and the cover of darkness.
Since I left Branch in 1964, I have attended many wakes. Often, when I’m seated in a comfortable, spacious, brightly lit funeral home, my mind drifts back to some of those innocent antics that were part of my childhood. I smile inwardly and take a quick glance toward the casket, just to check out the parapher- nalia and make sure it is not moving.
— Marina Power Gambin was born and raised in her beloved Branch. She now lives in Placentia where she taught school for almost three decades. She can be reached at email@example.com