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GRANDMA KARST

I never knew what to call the small room I was standing in. It might have been called a parlor or a sunroom or just an extension of the living room. At this time it was full of flowers and a casket. The lady in the casket was my Grandma Karst. If I pulled a chair over to the edge of the rug I could see her. The big people in the kitchen said she was dead. I knew if you stepped on a bug and his guts came out it was dead, and if you wring a chickens neck it was dead, but when you're four years old a dead person is beyond your scope of understanding. I knew the lady in the casket didn't have on her apron and print dress like my Grandma always wore. The lady in the casket wore black and her face did not look like my grandma, but the big people said it was she so I knew it was true.

This gathering was a wake and the most folks the old house had seen in years. My cousin Joyce and I were about the same age and we were warned to stay away from the casket and out of my uncle's room. They held equal fascination because my uncle had a coin collection that meant he was rich in our tiny world but I was beginning to hate the smell of the flowers around the casket. I still find the aroma of a rose unpleasant. I had a feeling I would not be coming to stay over night with Grandma Karst anymore.

I can remember her cure for the common cold and cough like it was yesterday. It may have been a German hand-me-down folk medicine and in a way it did work. Grandma would give you a tablespoon of kerosene and sugar mixed together. I believe it worked because you learned never to cough around Grandma.

Grandma's neighbors had a rat terrier dog and she did not understand why they would put up with the yipping if they didn't have rats. They had and old washing machine that operated with a gasoline engine that would beat out a series of pops and bangs that sounded like a small war. I don't think Grandma approved of that but I loved it.

My Grandpa Karst had died earlier and I barely remembered him, but I could recall he was chubby, and I picture him with a smelly, curved pipe in and old rocking chair. Grandma may have put up with my visits after he died just for the company.

I'm sure my Grandma loved me, but my last memory of her was when one of the big people at the wake grabbed me and held me up to the casket and said, "Kiss Grandma goodbye". What a stupid thing to do to a four year old. It left a lasting impression on me because, to this day, I remember kissing the cold, dead flesh of the lady in the casket who did not look like my Grandma Karst.

My brother Merlyn took advantage of the fear this incident left with me in a humorous way a few years later. I will share that story at another time.