I did not have traditional grandparents in the sense they did not have traditional careers. Grandma never taught me to bake or make cookies. Grandpa work but his hours varied as did Grandma’s.
My grandparents were funeral directors aka morticians. My grandfather Raymond Bruce Lee who went by Bruce followed in the footsteps of his father Ray B. Lee. My great grandfather was president of the Washington State Funeral Director’s Association (WSFDA) in 1921. I have the plaque. My grandmother, Beatrice, after marrying my grandfather became the first woman funeral director in Washington state.
My grandfather and great grandfather had a falling out. My great grandfather had Lee Funeral Home. In 1954, my grandfather opened Bruce Lee Memorial Chapel. They also had an ambulance service.
My mom worked there as the bookkeeper, apprentice funeral director and apprentice embalmer. My uncle Raymond “Mike” Lee was an embalmer /funeral director. There was a wonderful man named Marvin who I remember dearly who was like family. Eventually; a cousin Jim, my brother JT, my step father, myself, a variety of Jim’s family, some folks apprenticing, some having their first job after their degree from Mt Hood and some I probably don’t even recall.
Those growing up years with Grandpa and Grandma were a mixture of memories of the funeral home known to the family as the Chapel, drunkenness at times, real maple syrup, Top Hat Cafe, first bra shopping, ballet lessons, chasing their dogs when they got loose– all Irish setters, all named Sam.
The smell of embalming fluid after Grandpa came home was natural. Having a holiday family dinner and the phone ringing and my family having to leave to go on a “call”. Watching Grandma do hair and makeup and talking to the deceased just as if they were in a beauty shop. Having to go to the chapel when we were sick and having color book and crayons behind the giant counter. Sitting in the arrangement room in Grandpa’s chair and spinning it around.
Today at a funeral I was the officiant and the funeral director pulled out of his suit pocket, peppermint hard candy. Grandpa always had butterscotch in his suit jackey pocket. Funerals to me, are points of nostalgia and remembered stories of my family and of my past.
As time goes on, I will share some more stories of my grandparents. Some will be funny, some may be poignant, some crass, some just special to me. But maybe through these reflections, you will see the sincerity, caring, humor, hope, love and even a bit of brokedness that made/makes them my imperfectly perfect loving heros.