At its core, our street still harbours an old-style community neighbourhood. This is the first place Michele and I have lived where we know and communicate with many of our neighbours and it’s a good thing.

The “Mayor” of our street was indisputably Mrs J; a formidable 83 year old lady, with a burgundy coloured perm, and the energy of three five year olds, who lived over the road. Every morning as we left for work she would be catching up on the last 24 hours worth of gossip with the school crossing guard and her friend at the top of the hill. We’ve recently discovered that she attended this appointment only after being up and active for several hours and having completed her rigorous housework schedule. Michele also discovered that the trash can fairy who returned our bins to the ally after the trash men had called was…Mrs J. Evidently she and her late husband lived in the area their whole lives, and in our street for the majority of that time.

One morning last week we were disturbed to find that the other two members of Mrs J’s dawn posse had abandoned their post at the top of the hill and were outside her house looking concerned; Mrs J hadn’t arrived that morning. It turns out that she was in hospital at the time. She died later that day.

We were both amazed and saddened by this – during our entire time at this house (all nine-months of it) Mrs J had been a fixture. I imagined she would always be around, long after Michele and I died. And then, with no warning, she’s gone. In the UK, one of us would probably have attended the funeral. Over here, one of us would probably attend the “viewing”.

It’s still not clear whether the “viewing” is an American thing, a Philadelphia thing or a Catholic thing, but I’ve never heard of it before. As luck would have it, Michele couldn’t attend and so I represented the house. If you’ve never heard of a “viewing” then it’s probably simpler to explain it by describing what went on at this particular instance.

Tim kindly offered to drive me to there, and then to work, as he was passing King Of Bollocks on the way to his job. Another neighbour, Mary, came with us. It took place at a funeral home up the road and the events were as follows:

  1. We enter the home and are ushered into a room full of photos of the deceased and her family dating from 1923 to 2009.
  2. After examining the photos we sign a guest-book which simply involves writing your name and address.
  3. We then move to the next room, where a line of teary relatives of the deceased await our presence.
  4. We follow the other mourners along the line, shake hands, and tell the relatives how sorry we are that the deceased is…well…deceased. I was completely out of my depth at this point, but luckily Mary did a sterling job of explaining who we were (neighbours) and how we knew Mrs J (we were neighbours).
  5. Then, the main attraction: “viewing” the body of the deceased. This is just plain freaky to me. There she was! Lying in a coffin. She looked like she was going to wake up at any minute! The lighting and decor around the coffin are brilliantly designed to make the body look as normal and healthy as possible.
  6. Then we leave. The whole process takes a maximum of ten minutes and on the way out we pick up a little collector card with a mellow picture of waterfalls on one side, and the deceased’s name on the other, and a prayer/poem sort of thing. I don’t know what happens if you collect the set – perhaps it’s like PG tips cards and you get sent a book to stick them in.

To me this was a very weird experience – macabre even. But it really is the norm over here and people take it as such. If you want to pay your respects to someone who has died, this is how you do it.

We’re both still slightly in denial that she really has died. The community structure of our street has lost a keystone.

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