What if the place you called “home” happened to be a funeral home? Kate Mayfield explores what it meant to be the daughter of a small-town undertaker in this fascinating memoir evocative of Six Feet Under and The Help, with a hint of Mary Roach’s Stiff.
The first time I touched a dead person, I was too short to reach into the casket, so my father picked me up and I leaned in for that first, empty, cold touch. It was thrilling, because it was an unthinkable act.
After Kate Mayfield was born, she was taken directly to a funeral home. Her father was an undertaker, and for thirteen years the family resided in a place nearly synonymous with death. A place where the living and the dead entered their house like a vapor. The place where Kate would spend the entirety of her childhood. In a memoir that reads like a Harper Lee novel, Mayfield draws the reader into a world of Southern mystique and ghosts.
(Synopsis and image via Goodreads)
When I selected The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield from the publisher via NetGalley, I didn’t know what to expect. A memoir, yes. But about being an undertaker’s daughter, living over the funeral home, in a small Southern town? I thought it somewhat bizarre yet intriguing.
Kate Mayfield takes her reader on a strange, sometimes humorous, often dangerous tale of her life as the daughter of the one of only two white undertakers in Jubelee, Kentucky. The time period is the 1960s, a time when our nation was fraught with civil rights issues.
Kate’s family was guaranteed to a show of sorts each time the phone ring and someone needed to arrange a funeral. Funerals it seems created family feuds, arguments among family members, fetishes, and disagreements among funeral home owners. This list of strange occurrences is replete with the arrival and dispatch of automobile accident victims, suicide victim, dead youth as well as senior citizens, sometimes an infant and all too often seemingly ever-present smell of formaldehyde.
The staircase to the living quarters was positioned in a unique spot to give the curious daughter, Kate, a chance to sit at the top and see everything going on, unless caught in the act by one or both of her parents. Her ability to so snoop brings some of the humor into her storytelling.
Four small words quieted the household until the casket and family members and friends left the funeral home: “We’ve got a body!”
Kate Mayfield writes a thoroughly enjoyable memoir of the real side of life as a family led by an undertaker. Having at one time dated an undertaker, I have witnessed and experienced some of what Kate writes about, and I can vouch for her words being accurate. It is a different world, at once strange and compassionate.
Watch the trailer:
Listen to Chapter One: Click here.
Meet Kate Mayfield:
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