Embarrassing situations can arise at any time. I am intimately aware of “Murphy’s Law”, being a Murphy myself, and no truer statement was ever made – “If anything can go wrong, it will, and at the most inopportune moment.”
In 1955 I was a 19 year old college student attending Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Since money was hard to come by in those days, I had to work after classes in order to meet expenses. I was hired by the Oakley-Metcalf Funeral Home to live on premises and work as a general flunky. I was paid the awesome sum of $120 per month, plus my room. Seems very puny today, but back then it was a fairly decent job for a college student.
My room was a very small one, right next to the preparation room where embalming was done. My “flat” was probably 8 feet wide by 10 feed long, and contained a bunk bed, a chest of drawers, a chair, and the most important item, a telephone. The telephone was important because we had an emergency ambulance and made calls to accidents, heart attacks, and the like. Paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians had not been invented as yet, so funeral homes provided this service.
Oakley-Metcalf owned an emergency ambulance, a hearse, and a transfer ambulance, which was a hearse converted to hold a cot for non-emergency transfers. We usually picked up deceased people with the transfer ambulance, bringing them to the funeral home.
Another employee, Gary, lived in an apartment above the ambulance garage with his wife. Gary was a few years older than me and was the “old pro” at the funeral home.
On this particular occasion Gary and I had driven the transfer ambulance to a Houston, Texas hospital to pick up a deceased person. The round trip of approximately 250 miles was uneventful until we arrived back at the funeral home. A long, sloping driveway led from Mound Street up to the garage in which we parked. I noted as we arrived with the body that a number of the deceased’s family was already at the funeral home milling around outside. Naturally, they watched intently as Gary and I drove up the driveway with the body of their loved one.
We parked the ambulance, opened the back door and rolled the cot toward the back, and eased it down to the driveway. Then “Murphy’s Law” struck. As we attended to several items in the back of the ambulance, we turned our attention away from the cot with the body on it. In that moment, the cot started rolling down the driveway toward Mound Street, gathering momentum. The yelling of several family members brought our attention back to the moving cot.
We both began our chase of the cot down the sloping driveway and successfully caught it just before it reached the intersection. We heard a few choice words from some family members as we rolled the cot back up the driveway and into the preparation room.
There is not much one can say at a time like that. Our boss, Skinny Garrison, had a few words to say to us, but did not fire us as we probably deserved. Gary and I had to face the family again while conducting the funeral, but nothing else came from the embarrassing incident, except that it served to teach me a lesson to be more careful and respectful.
Murphy ’s Law still continues to harass me in various ways, as it always will. After being married now for many years I find that there is a new Murphy’s Wife’s Law – “If anything can go wrong, it will – while HE’s out of town.”
“THE RUNAWAY COT”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
107 Hemlock Street
PO Box 511
San Augustine, TX 75972