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Feather's Miscellany: Coffin Knocks

John Waddington-Feather tells the tale of a woman who had two funerals.

To laugh at death is to allay it; and there is a long tradition in my native Yorkshire to make jokes about death. Perhaps it’s because death was so intimate in the past when working and living conditions in the Industrial Revolution towns and cities were so appalling, much as they are in the developing world today.

I heard a tale about death recently which I felt I must pass on. It concerns one of those prototype nagging wives called Gertie Sharp. She’d a tongue like a viper with which she lashed her husband day in, day out.

Down Garlic Lane she won notoriety by coming back to life at her first funeral; I say ‘first’ because she had two. Something of a record in Keighworth. And was her husband Tom glad to attend the second one! She made his life hell at times all through their marriage. Was it Shakespeare who said, “Men are April when they woo; December when they wed.”? And certainly December was an apt month to describe Tom Sharp’s life when he wed. Gertie would have nagged him into an early grave only she got there first.

She had a stroke in her sixties and so bad was it the doctor pronounced her dead and she was carted off to the mortuary. She’d have been buried but at the last moment at her funeral, as the bearers were carrying her coffin through the narrow porch of the church that they found out she was still alive.

It happened thus. They’d held the funeral service and the cortege headed by the parson was leaving Trinity Church when one of the bearers stumbled and the coffin caught the edge of the door-post and jolted Gertie inside. To the amazement of those walking behind they heard a soft moan, followed by Gertie’s voice from inside the coffin crying,” Get me out of here!” Her tongue as usual was the first to spring to life.

To say the parson and the rest were surprised would be an understatement. I suspect the Revd Eli Thomas thought that Judgement Day had arrived. He was gob-smacked! But it was the undertaker who was first to came to his senses. He pulled out a screwdriver from his overcoat pocket and quickly unscrewed the lid of the coffin Then Gertie was carried back home in her coffin and got out. The next day she hit the national headlines.

She recovered and lived for another five years till her number came up again; this time for real. You can imagine how they all felt after the second funeral as they made their way down the aisle and approached to church door. The cortege had to slow down to get through and as it reached the door, Tom was heard quite plainly saying to the bearers, “ Nah then! Take it steady and for God’s sake don’t catch her coffin on the doorpost like you did before!”

John Waddington-Feather ©

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