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My Mom's a Mortician

My Mom's a Mortician

by Patricia Wiles


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Winner of the 2004 Middle Grade Fiction Award from the Association for Mormon Letters.

It’s bad enough that Kevin’s mother is about to graduate from mortuary college, but when his parents tell him they’re moving to a small town in the Arkansas delta to run the Paramount Funeral Home, Kevin is certain it’s his life that’s over. After all, normal people don’t live in houses with dead bodies downstairs! Once in Armadillo, Arkansas, Kevin tries to adapt to the family business. When he’s targeted by the biggest bully in the seventh grade, Kevin begins to “hear” advice from an unlikely source—Cletus McCulley, an old Mormon fisherman and one of his mother’s dead customers. Cletus’s messages from beyond the grave lead Kevin to uncover not only the bully’s secrets, but the truth about a family tragedy that shattered his parents’ faith and led them away from God. It’s up to Kevin to find the courage to face the bully, and to find a way to help his family heal.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504029438
Publisher: Open Road Distribution
Publication date: 02/23/2016
Pages: 132
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)
Age Range: 10 - 13 Years

About the Author

Patricia Wiles is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Authors Guild. Her essays have aired on public radio and appeared in magazines, and she’s received awards from the Kentucky Press Association for her work in print journalism. 

Read an Excerpt

My Mom's a Mortician

The Kevin Kirk Chronicles

By Patricia Wiles


Copyright © 2013 Patricia Wiles
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2930-8


Mom's secret tomato-and-green-peppers-recipe meat loaf always made me sick. It had even more gag power the night she announced we were moving two hundred miles away to some boring Arkansas delta town to run a funeral home.

I'd worked hard at showing no interest in Mom's new career as a mortician. Maybe that's why my parents didn't discuss the move with me earlier. I was good at ignoring their conversations about mortuary science. And thanks to my Game Boy and earphones, I didn't hear a word of Mom's graduation ceremony the night before.

Now I wished I'd paid attention.

It was bad enough that my friends knew Mom was going to school to be an undertaker. But at least we lived where I had friends.

Now I had to move where I had no friends at all: Armadillo, the roadkill capital of Arkansas. Population 7,836 — give or take a few decaying marsupials.

It was too late for discussion. They'd already bought the place and signed the deal. But no one thought to ask me how I felt about it.

For some strange reason, my parents thought I should be happy about this.

I spit an unchewed mouthful of meatloaf into my napkin. "Just a minute," I said, "if you two want a funeral home, that's fine. But you're not gonna drag me into the dead body business!"

Dad yanked the napkin out of my hand and tossed it in the trash. "Do you know what the price of ground beef is these days?" He had no sympathy for my discomforts, whether caused by Mom's inability to cook a dead cow or her ability to embalm one. "Look, Kevin, morticians provide an important service. It'll be a different lifestyle. It's not an eight-to-five job. But we'll get used to it. We've adjusted to Mom's school schedule over these last two years, and we've made it OK."

"But Dad —"

"We're going to pay you," Mom interrupted. Dad gave her a puzzled look — a clue that Mom's bribe was a spur-of-the-moment attempt to soften me up. He had to be wondering where Mom thought the money would come from. He hadn't been able to find a steady job since the factory shut down. He'd insisted that Mom stay in school instead of looking for work. While Mom studied, we scraped by on savings plus whatever handyman jobs Dad could find. I'd even mowed grass, raked leaves, and shoveled snow to help pay the bills.

I should have questioned why she was willing to pay me. But I needed a new bike, and despite my misgivings, the promise of money was hard to resist. "How much?"

Dad could see I'd taken the bait. So instead of arguing with Mom, he reeled me in. "It depends on how business goes at first. You'll start at a smaller amount, of course, but as the business grows, we'll be able to pay you more." Then he twirled the corner of his moustache, and in his best Dracula accent he said, "And I promize zat you shall never, ever haf to touch zee corpses."

Mom pulled a brochure out of her three-ring binder and tossed it across the table. On the front of the brochure it said: "Paramount Funeral Home, serving Sherman and White Counties since 1959." Inside was a photograph of a two-story brick building with tall white columns. I covered the long black hearse with my hand, and tried to convince myself that my parents were going to manage a country club instead of a funeral home.

Mom then tore a packing list out of the binder and handed it to me. "We'll open at the end of July, so we have less than six weeks to get ready. It'll take four weeks to get the home presentable, which leaves only two weeks for the move. So tomorrow I'll go to Food-a-Rama and get some empty boxes ..." Her tongue clicked like an out-of-control metronome as she checked her mental list. "We'll work through the bedrooms first. Then I'll start in the den. We'll tackle the kitchen last. There's so much to organize!"

She grabbed the first issue of her new subscription to Morticians Monthly and left the table for a long soak in a hot bath. I flopped down on the couch and turned on the TV, figuring if Dad thought worm food was so great he could clean up the leftovers of Mom's meat loaf without me.

The next day, the first morning of summer break, Mom pitched two produce boxes and one of those fake apple-juice-drink pouches through my bedroom door. The juice pouch sailed across the room and hit me in the shoulder. I rolled over on my back and groaned.

"Eat fast, Kev! Gotta pack," she yelled, using my forehead as a target for a package of apple-raspberry Toaster Tarts. I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes.

Dad was under my desk, disconnecting my computer. "Honey, bring me something to wrap around this monitor ... a blanket or something." Then he sneezed three times. "For cryin' out loud, Kevin. Don't you know how to use a vacuum? There are dust balls under here big enough to shoot hoops with. Honey, bring up a couple more boxes."

Mom brought in three more boxes and some old blankets. She dumped them on the floor beside Dad. It surprised her that I was still in bed.

"Kevin Andrew Kirk, get out of that bed right now! There's work to do." She jerked the sheets off the bed, sending my Toaster Tarts flying through the air. They hit the wall above my computer desk and fell behind it.

Dad was losing patience with the endless yards of printer and power cables. "Freda, where are my boxes? Kevin, stop throwing your food." He tried to pitch the tarts on the bed, but his direction was off. They veered toward Mom and landed at her feet. She picked them up and put them on my bed.

No one seemed to care that my breakfast had been knocked around the room like the volleyballs in PE class. "How am I supposed to eat those Toaster Tarts?" I knocked them off the bed and brushed the crumbs off my mattress. "They're beat up and covered in dust bunnies."

Mom wadded my sheets into a tight bunch. She looked at Dad's rear end sticking out from under my desk, and then she looked at me. I stuck my bottom lip out in a pout. I didn't want to pack. It was the first day or summer. And I was hungry.

Mom threw the sheets down and left the room again. When she came back, she handed me a new package of tarts. She didn't say anything. She didn't even smile. She just stuck the tarts out and shook them in front of my face. I knew then I'd pushed my limit. I took the tarts and even said thanks, but it was too late. I'd gone too far. The puddles in her eyes let me know she was frustrated. I decided it was time to get up, get dressed, and start packing.

By the end of the day we had Dad's S-10 truck loaded down with tools, books, old work clothes, some small pieces of furniture, and my big junk trunk. Mom said if we were lucky Dad would lose it and we wouldn't have to worry about unpacking it. She'd never liked my junk trunk, mostly because I had at least two dozen snakeskins in it that I'd found in the yard over the years. Why a woman who didn't flinch at a dead body feared something as harmless as a snakeskin was beyond me.

The next morning, Dad gave Mom a long kiss good-bye and took off for Armadillo, Arkansas. Mom and I had to stay behind and pack, which meant that she and Dad wouldn't see each other for two whole weeks. My parents had never spent a night apart. For a long time after Dad was gone, Mom stood at the edge of the yard, staring at the distant spot where his truck had disappeared and where Primrose Lane — the street that had always been the center of my world — narrowed to an end.

We'd never moved before, and I didn't realize how much work was involved. Once we got started, Mom didn't have time to miss Dad. If we weren't eating or sleeping, we were packing something. I wrapped so many pictures and dishes in newspaper that I thought my hands would be ink stained forever. By the end of the two weeks I didn't care if I ever saw another cardboard box.

Mom worried over pointless stuff the whole time. Because we were moving everything in one trip, we could only take what was important. We had to either give away or throw away what was left. That meant the local Goodwill got a lot of our old dishes, books, and clothes, but not until Mom agonized over what to do with each piece of junk.

For example, one day Mom asked me to bag up all the old clothes from the storage closet so we could take them to the Goodwill drop box. I'd filled four extra-large trash bags by the time I was ready to clear the top shelf. It had nothing on it but shoes and shoe boxes. One shoe box was red and smaller than the others. I opened it and found a doll-sized white cotton dress with white ribbon rosebuds, a white lace cap, and white knit booties.

"Kevin!" Mom screamed. "What are you doing with that box?" She jerked it away from me. "Don't you dare throw that away."

"What did I do?" I shouted back. "You told me to clean out the closet. I was just looking at it. What's the big deal, anyway? It's only some old doll clothes."

She put the lid back on the box. Her hands trembled. "I guess I'm jumpy about the move."

I didn't like getting yelled at for helping with a move I didn't want to make in the first place. But if Mom didn't care whether I wanted to move or not, why should she care if I thought her yelling was unfair?

Then there was this old ceramic fruit statue Dad's great-aunt Juanita had given her as a wedding gift. Juanita had taken a ceramics class at the assisted living home and painted the statue herself. The problem was Juanita's ninety-year-old eyes were so bad she couldn't have seen an elephant if it sat across from her in a booth at the Dairy Queen. So instead of looking like normal fruit, the statue's orange apples, brown oranges, and bananas the color of cooked spinach looked more like fruit ready for the compost pile.

Mom hated the statue, but she'd kept it because she didn't want to hurt Juanita's feelings — even though Juanita had been dead for eight years.

The statue sat on top of the TV for several days as we packed. Every time Mom walked past it, her jaw tightened and a screeching-tires sound eked out through her clenched teeth.

On the day we packed up the den, I helped Mom disassemble the lamps. I knew something would have to be done about the fruit. Mom would never make the decision if I didn't push her. So I nodded toward the statue. "Why don't you bury that thing in the backyard?" Mom shook her head. "I couldn't do that." She picked up a lamp shade and covered it with plastic wrap. "Juanita worked so hard on it. I couldn't hurt her feelings."

"How would she ever find out?" I asked. "She died when I was four."

Why she had never thought of that before, I don't know. But now this bit of logic flipped a switch in Mom's brain. Her face glowed from the light of my bright idea. She put the wrapped shade in the box with the others and sealed it with packing tape. "You're right," she said. "I'd forgotten that she died."

I laughed. "That's dumb. You don't forget someone's dead."

"I didn't mean it that way," Mom said. She snatched the statue from the top of the TV. "I guess I don't think about Juanita's death. I love her and think about her as if she were here."

Mom left the room. I heard the front screen door creak open, then slam shut. A few seconds later, there was a sharp crash as the sad fruit statue hit the bottom of the big metal dumpster out front.


The sun hadn't come up yet when Mom backed the U-Haul out of the driveway and we took off for Armadillo. I didn't know you could burn rubber in a U-Haul. Mom pressed the pedal to the floor and drove through the sleepy neighborhood at least twenty miles over the speed limit. She missed Dad and obviously didn't care if she got a ticket — she just wanted to get to wherever he was, quickly. Since they'd always done everything together, I figured he missed her just as much.

Once Mom merged the U-Haul onto the interstate, any hope I had of the move being just a bad dream was gone. So I decided not to think about it. I wouldn't think about how I'd been forced to leave all my friends behind so my parents could run a rest stop for stiffs. I turned on the radio and gave Mom a brilliant fake smile. She looked surprised at first, then relieved, and gave my hair a tousle with her free hand.

Minutes passed like hours as I watched the asphalt roll under us and the horizon turn pink ahead of us. When the sun finally filtered out the last of the purple dawn, and the sky was as blue as the pool at the Y, we pulled into the Starvin' Marvin off exit 36, halfway to Armadillo. Mom filled up the U-Haul while I bought breakfast to go — two cherry colas, two ham-and-egg biscuits with cheese, and two Hunk-O-Choklit bars.

My biscuit was so dry that when I tried to talk crumbs spewed out of my mouth and flew all over the inside of the cab. Mom found this hilarious, but distracting. Since it took real concentration on Mom's part to eat and drive at the same time, we agreed to eat our biscuits and slurp our cherry colas in silence.

When I was ready for dessert, I tried to guess which end of the Hunk-O-Choklit bar I should start on. Hunk-O-Chocklits were my favorite candy bars: thick as a brick and chunky too, but with pockets of gooey chocolate cream inside. Because the name was molded into the bar, I always ate Hunk-O-Choklit bars from the H down, for good luck. So, like a thousand other times before, I opened the foil wrapper. But this time, instead of finding the "H" like always, I was faced with a "T."

No big deal, I thought. That's being superstitiousplaying a little kid's game such as which way to eat a candy bar. I took the bar out of its wrapper and turned it around so the H stared up at me, begging to be eaten. Then I rewrapped the foil around the T end and pretended I'd gotten it right the first time.

Determined not to think about this sign of bad luck, I slowly bit into each letter — H, U, N, and K — and listened to my teeth cut through the crunchy bits and felt the gooey part ooze out onto my lips. But when I reached the O, I realized I'd never asked Mom where in Armadillo we were going to live.

"So, Mom," I said, then paused to let my teeth sink into the center of the O. I let the candy melt into a soft puddle on my tongue, so when I spoke again I sounded like I had a bad cold. "Whad's our new houde like? Id it big?"

Mom thought for a minute — another omen I shouldn't have ignored, because it meant she was choosing her words carefully. "Well, we're not actually living in a house."

I chewed the consonant blend CH and swallowed, unaware of the impending doom. "An apartment will be fun. Especially since we won't have to worry about mowing the lawn."

"There's still mowing to be done, Kev. Landscaping, too. We want the funeral home to be neat and attractive. Outside appearances make an impression." Mom was down to the ice in her cola, and the air in her straw made a loud slurpy sound. "But between the three of us, we can keep it up."

Suddenly I felt warm and generous toward my mother. After all, Dad had said I wouldn't have to be around the bodies. And Mom was trying hard to start her new career. "I wouldn't mind doing some yard work for you after school. I could just ride my bike home afterward, if it's not too far." I took a big bite this time, all of O, K, and L.

"That's what makes this so great. It's going to be so convenient living there."

I popped the last IT of the candy bar in my mouth and imagined the possibilities for making new friends in our apartment building beside our new family business.

Mom wadded her candy wrapper and stuffed it in the empty Starvin' Marvin sack. "Yep," she said, in the kind of lilty tone people use when they're pretending you knew all the time about something, except they know you really didn't. "I think living in the funeral home is a great idea."

My breathing stopped. She'd said "in." Living in the funeral home!

So much for warm and generous feelings. My parents had lied to me. Not telling the whole story was the same as a lie. And they didn't tell me because they knew I wouldn't like it.

Anger exploded in my mouth like gunpowder. Words shot out so fast I didn't even know for sure what I'd said — but I knew it was bad, because Mom flinched at the impact. She glared at me with one of her Don't-Mess-With-Me-Kevin-Andrew-Kirk-Or-You're-Gonna-Get-It looks. As she eased onto the Armadillo exit ramp she laid down the law: There was no need to live anywhere else since the funeral home had a nicely furnished second floor with two bathrooms and a kitchen better than the one in our old house, and I'd better not say anything to discourage my father since our family was taking a big step moving and starting a new business and he was nervous and worried enough as it was, so I'd better swallow it up and get over it.


Excerpted from My Mom's a Mortician by Patricia Wiles. Copyright © 2013 Patricia Wiles. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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