SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Arley Came Home, A Faded Funeral Tradition

By Bob Weaver

2011 - There was a brief return to a faded funeral tradition last week in Calhoun, the wake (visitation of a deceased person being held in the home.)

Following the passing of eighty-six-year-old Arley Metheney, his casketed body was returned to his farmhouse at Chloe

Calhoun funeral director John Stump said it was the first time to have a wake in a family home in over 15 years.

Metheney's daughter said the family was honoring Arley's request to have a simple wake at home and a quiet burial.

During much of the 20th Century, the undertaker would take the body to their parlor for embalming, cosmetizing, and clothing, placing them in a casket to be returned to the residence.

Wakes were generally all-night events, with family and community members staying up, much like the Jewish sitting Shivah. The body would be taken to a church for a funeral, although some had the funeral at the home.

Needless to say, it was a tiring ritual, but likely served well to help family members grieve and mourn.

In the earlier 1900s, the body was embalmed at home and placed in a casket, often made by a casket-maker in each community. Minnora, Arnoldsburg, Mt. Zion, Big Springs, Big Bend and Grantsville all had individuals specializing in casket-making.

While attending the Metheney wake, I flashed back to earlier days as a child at Hur in the 1940s-50s, when the funeral wake at home was a practice more common than not.

My grandfather John Ira McCoy died in 1950, his last hours were well-remembered as a ten-year-old. Most of his nine children and their families huddled around him during his last hours under the dim gas lights, aware of his impeding death.

My mother came out of the tiny bedroom to announce he had the "death gurgle" and that his "eyes are set," a sure sign of imminent death. It was an emotional scene when he gasped his last breath.

Arley Metheney's wake was much like my grandfathers, a large family of eleven children. His body reposed in the parlor, surrounded by family members and neighbors.

The kitchen table and counters were full of food, with mourners filling their plates and drifting to the yard. Dozens of children played in the yard, with neighbors coming and going to express their condolences.

As a funeral director of 17 years, starting in the early 1960s in Spencer, every year dozens of former residents who migrated to Ohio were returned home for a funeral and burial.

As time went by, both the tradition of the home wake and being returned from faraway states faded.

During those years gone by, it was all about home, family, roots and community.

It seems most changes in tradition and culture are based on what is timely and convenient.

Now many of the deceased are cremated, many do not have a funeral, and some not even an obituary appearing in local paper.