Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Thirty six years ago, this month

My sweet man and I had just moved back to Albuquerque. We had first, lived in San Francisco and back and then Denver and back. We had moved 5 times in 2 years and I swore I would have to pierce Shelley's ear and let her read palms on the corner. I felt a little disjointed and frayed. Also I needed a job and needed to find one quickly.

I applied for a job I saw in the Albuquerque Tribune (a newspaper that no longer exists). Record keeping and secretarial duties. Yep, I could do that. Went to a mortuary to have my interview. Yep, I maybe could do that until ....... Got offered the job on the spot. Yep, I sure wish I had a reason to turn this job down, but we need the money. So there starts the story of the woman who would be the "Sleeper Keeper" of the Mausoleum.

My first day was a blur. I was so scared. I barely heard what my boss told me I needed to be doing. Every noise sent me up the wall. I had always been uneasy when folks talked about cemetery's and now I was working in the big marble building at the top of the hill in the biggest cemetery in Albuquerque. My case of nerves would only get worse before they got better.

My immediate boss was the grounds keeper and a really nice man. Kinda quiet but a real sweetheart.....but also a trickster. He saw my fear and kinda played on it, until he realized that if he ran me off that he was going to be doing both of our jobs for another two months. Funny how not everyone wants to work in the cemetery. So he became my guide into the world of "nah, don't let it bother you". The morticians on the other hand were not so kind. You know you have to be a little, well how to put this delicately, different to be in the business of "fluffing and fixing" dead people anyway. And I came to find out just how ODD some of their antics were. I would be typing away, they would sneak up behind me and drop a set of keys. Yeah, I learned not to scream because the poor folks visiting their loved ones where not inclined to enjoy the sounds of screams emanating from the mausoleum office. The restroom was on the other side of the mausoleum from the office. I would have to lock my door, go down one hallway, cross in front of the chapel, down another hallway and there was the facilities. Several times on my way back to the office, I was ambushed by the idiot undertakers, jumping out from the chapel. It was a good thing they got me on the way back and not to.

Keep in mind, I went to work in September and by the time my first Halloween rolled around in the cemetery I was still uneasy with my surroundings and the lack of noise. So when, on that night as I left work, I saw lights emanating from the grounds, I freaked out. Worse yet was Christmas Eve. The lights were everywhere. Come to find out that people put luminarias (brown paper bags with sand for stability and a votive candle inside) on their loved ones graves for Christmas. Who knew back then. Now we make a point of driving by the cemetery on Christmas Eve for the expressed purpose of seeing the candle lights.

I could regale you with strange funerals, weird last requests, stranger than fiction happenings and wonderful people encounters but for now just these tidbits. I learned alot about life and living working in the cemetery. Overcame many fears, not just of the dead but of the living as well. Made some interesting friends, found a new respect for traditions and got a life time employee discount at the mortuary. Not joking, my Mother's funeral was 15% off.....too weird.