WAKES, WIL­LIES AND SHENANI­GANS

The Compass - - OPINION -

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 mari­nagam­bin@per­sona.ca

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