Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
In 1938, when I entered the first grade in Marysville’s West Elementary School, my favorite time of day was 3:30 p.m. That’s when classes ended, and I often walked home with three boys in my class. One was a boy named Dee Weil, who lived near me on Fifth Street. The other two were the Howard Brothers, Jim and Russel, who lived on Fourth Street.
We did a lot of fun things together, like picking up buckeyes, or doing a little exploring inside the Union County Courthouse. The next day, we might climb on the World War I cannon in the courthouse lawn. No matter what we did, we had fun doing it. And this went on for more than two years.
Then one day in early April of 1941, our third-grade teacher, Miss Morse, made an announcement to our class. She said Russel had become ill, and he was taken to a hospital in Columbus. Then she told us that he was so ill, he passed away in that hospital.
I’m not sure I grasped the whole thing. My only personal experience with death was when our little dog, Nicki, wandered into Fifth Street and was hit by a car. That was easy to understand, for my dad had seen it happen. But it was hard for me to realize that a young boy, especially a friend of mine, might die, unless he was hit by a car or something like that. It was a sobering experience.
I had never had to deal with the death of anyone in my family. Both of my grandmothers we’re still living, and both grandfathers passed away long before I was born. I just found it hard to wrap my brain around the fact one of my friends had died, and would never again be a part of my life.
That night, as we sat around the dinner table, my mother told me that I had been asked to be a pallbearer at Russel’s funeral. Of course, I didn’t know what that was, so she explained that I, along with five of my classmates, would carry Russel to his grave. She told me it would be my last opportunity to do something for him. I wanted to do that.
On the day of the funeral, all six of us boys were asked to get to the funeral home a little early, to give us a chance to say “goodbye” to Russel. The service was in the Faulkner Funeral Home, in the small red brick building across from the courthouse on Court Street.
The six of us went to the casket in the southeast corner of the room. None of us said a word. I think the other boys were just as overwhelmed as I was. And we all realized that this was the last time we would see our classmate.
After the service at the funeral home, the six of us rode in cars behind the hearse to Oakdale Cemetery, where we carried the small casket to Russel’s grave. After we returned to the funeral home, I walked home.
Then I sat in our porch swing with my mother. I think she could sense some of the uneasiness that I was feeling, so she asked me to tell her about what I had just experienced. I believe it was her way to start a much broader conversation that might answer some of my questions about life and death.
Once I finished telling her about the service and the burial, she started talking more about Russel. She talked for quite some time, and as she talked, I began to feel more comfortable. I don’t remember what she said, but whatever it was, it worked. The anxiety that I was feeling faded away, and I went outside to play.
Today, maybe 80 years later, it’s a lot more common for me to lose a friend now and then. It’s never easy, but it’s also never as hard as it was when I was nine years old and Russel passed away. He was my classmate and my friend. And we had fun when we walked home from school together.
Those wishing to contact Bill Boyd can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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