When I was a lad of 10 years old, William Flanagan died. (That's not his picture over there on the left, but he probably looked like himself) When I looked at him lying there in his coffin which was placed in the living room of his home, he looked like he was a thousand years old. OK, a YOUNG thousand years old.
And, thanks to Bill Flanagan (I hope you don't mind me calling you "Bill"), I was able to get a half day off from school. You see, I went to first and second grade in the school three doors up from St. Hedwig's Church and right across the street from John Hovanic's home. Younger people would know this place today as the Parish Center, a place to go to catechism and summer school. Mrs. Butler was my first grade teacher and Mrs. Diehl taught me in second grade.
Third grade saw me become a first class commuter so I rode the bus to Keisterville (no, I'm not kidding about the town's name) and sat in Mrs. Sanner's class. I loved third grade because I got to sit next to Connie Hoyock, my first love. (It was unrequited). But Mrs. Sanner used to take us out for nature walks and since I spent most of my time outside anyway, it felt good to "take the air" with my class.
Fourth grade caused me to commute even further to the Menallen Elementary School which was on Route 40. The cool thing there was that this school was BRAND NEW. My teacher, Mrs. Eleanor McMaster, wasn't so brand new. I remember her husband Eugene used to work at the Company Store in Smock. The one funny thing was that Mrs. McMaster used to pronounce the word "food" differently. The way she pronounced it made it rhyme with "good" or "hood".
William Flanagan died and needed to be buried and so he needed a priest AND he needed some altar boys. That's where John Michael Hovanic and I came in. The funeral Mass at St. Hedwig's was at around 9:00 AM and so we needed to not go to school. At that time, I wish that all of the old people died, once a week, and on a Monday. And if anyone who reads this knew of Bill Flanagan or his relatives, please tell them thanks. It really made my day in so many ways.
First, there was the trip to Mr. Flanagan's home. He lived on "the other side" as we Smock Hill natives would call it, up by the other Smock school. I never attended this since the Redstone Creek was the dividing line between Smock Hill and the "other" side. It also divided Franklin Township from Menallen Township. So we go into Bill's home and there he is. All decked out in a suit he probably never wore with those two floor lamps on either side of the casket. You know, the ones with the glass lamp shade that was pink at the top and got redder as it got closer to the bulb. I never knew until much later that these lamps were owned by the Haky Funeral Home to make the dead seem more "lifelike". I thought that it just made Bill look pinker. But to get to Bill's home, we rode in Father Oris's behemoth of an Oldsmobile 98. We were both scared to ride in the front so we rode in the back. That car was so big that I could stretch out my legs and not touch the back of the front seat!!!
Then there was the Mass, and then off to some cemetery but not St. Hedwig's. It was some other place. Then, because the Irish followed the funeral customs of other European cultures, we went back to old Bill Flanagan's house where we ate like pigs. And on top of this, we were each given.....oh my......wait for it.........FIVE dollars. I said to myself that more people have to start dying around here.
I don't know what made me remember William Flanagan through the years. Whether it was the fact that he wasn't a "Hunky" or the fact that his family really put on the "feed bag" that day? Or maybe it was the money? Or the fact that I missed a half day of school without being sick?
But to this very day, at every Mass I attend, when the lector says during the petitions to remember those who have died or when the priest says "Lord, remember those who have died and have gone before us marked with the sign of faith...", I always remember William Flanagan. And I cannot tell you why.
I just know that Bill had to die in order for me to remember him. And now, I hope you remember him too. And everyone who made my little town so unforgettable.