I was saddened to hear that Larson's Funeral Home in Rock Island is closing.
It may seem strange to get nostalgic over a funeral home, but the gigantic blue-stone structure in downtown Rock Island was an important part of my childhood.
1. It sent out advertising calendars to everyone in town every year, perhaps as a momento mori. I checked the date hundreds of times on a red-emblazoned calendar from Larson's Funeral Home.
2. It was the site of a major sausage fondling.
In the fall of 1972, when I was in seventh grade, my friend Craig's older brother had a job at Larson's Funeral Home.
Jim was sixteen years old, tall and lean, with sharp features, a thick neck, and hard wiry biceps (I never actually saw him naked).
All he had to do was stay in the office overnight to answer the telephone, take down the information about someone who just died, and call the mortician to arrange a pickup.
Most nights, no one called, so Jim just camped out in the office: there was a television and a couch where he could sleep. Down the hall there was a kitchen, with lots of leftover hors d'oevres in the refrigerator.
Seventh graders were all in awe of the boy who had a brother who worked with dead bodies! Was it gross? Was it creepy?
Could we see one of the dead bodies?
We asked, but Jim refused: "I could get into a lot of trouble."
"Come on -- you let your friends visit all the time."
"Yeah, my friends. Grownups, dig? I could get into a lot of trouble letting little kids run wild in the funeral home. What if you knocked over a funeral urn, and scattered some poor guy's ashes all over?"
That only made us more anxious to go.
Finally, one Friday morning around Halloween, Jim gave in. "We just had a new pickup last night," he told Craig. "That boy who died in the car accident down in Coal Valley. He's still in the embalming room. You guys come over tonight around 10:00 pm, and I'll give you a tour."
10:00 pm? We had to be in bed by 10:00! This would take a little strategizing:
1. Brett, the cute dark-haired boy I danced with at the canteen, invited Craig, Bill, and me over for a spur-of-the -moment sleepover.
2. At 9:00 pm, Brett's older brother and his friend offered to take us all out to Happy Joe's for pizza. They said "We might be back a little late."
3. At 10:00 pm we parked on a side street and, talking and laughing to cover up our nervousness, walked up to the front door of Larson's Funeral Home.
Jim let us in, told us to wipe our feet, and showed us around.
The lounges, the music room, the library, the coffin room.
Jim demonstrated why Barnabas Collins, the vampire on Dark Shadows, was never filmed getting out of his coffin. There's no way to do it without looking ridiculous.
That was interesting, but we wanted to see the dead body!
The small chapel, the large chapel, the kitchen, the office.
What about the dead body?
"Ok, I saved the scariest part for last," Jim said loudly, stopping in front of a tan metal door. "I just want to make sure you're prepared. Sometimes the eyes are still open, and they follow you around the room. And do you know what rigor mortis is?"
We shook our heads.
"No way!" I exclaimed. "Not the dick!"
Jim nodded solemnly. "Everywhere. It's pretty gross. I won't make fun of you if you decide to stay behind."
Are you kidding?
He opened the door and led us into the embalming room. It looked like a doctor's office, all white cabinets, rubber gloves, and gleaming steel implements, but on the examination table lay a naked teenage boy.
Blond curly hair. A cute round face, a red mark on his forehead. Eyes closed. Smooth hairless chest, pale arms and legs. Beautiful, thick Bratwurst. Fully aroused.
I couldn't take my eyes off it.
"You can go up and touch him if you want," Jim suggested.
The others hung back, hesitating, but I moved forward to the table. Jim looked surprised when, instead of touching his hand or face, I gently wrapped my fingers around his penis.
It was warm!
At that moment Corpse Boy opened his eyes.
I jerked myhand away.
He sat up and yelled "Uggh!"
We all screamed and ran from the room, out into the small chapel, and into the foyer. Brett got to the front door first. It was locked.
Jim and his friends were laughing. "We got you good!" he exclaimed. "Meet my Cousin Boris, from Transylvania."
Corpse Boy emerged, pulling on a pair of jeans. He was still partially aroused. "I vant to suck your blood!" he said in a Dracula accent.
I was pretty sure that it was all a prank before I grabbed Corpse Boy's penis. But not entirely sure.
Years later, I ran into Jim at the Mall. He asked "Have you felt up any corpses lately?"
I get nostalgic thinking about Larson's Funeral Home.
See also: Slow Dancing in Junior High; The Demolish Boys Get Naked and Touch Each Other.