SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Rigor Mortis Done Set In, Drunk, Dead And Delivered



By Bob Weaver 2012

The first time I met Arco Smith he was sitting on a bar stool at Earl O'Brien's pool hall in Spencer, smoking a cigarette and sipping beer, blood dripping from his body to the floor.

Arco was fascinatingly from the Village of Looneyville, where people use to come from all over to postmark their Christmas cards to capture the unusual Roane County name.

Earl operated the famous Spencer pool hall for a number of years, originally called the Shamrock. He phoned for an ambulance after noticing Arco's condition.

The funeral home and ambulance service with which I was associated in the 1960s was a short distance up Market Street, so the dispatch was quick.

Declining to disclose how he had been shot in the shoulder, he acknowledged it caused considerable pain, leading to his decision to drive to town and take on a few beer to relieve the discomfort.

With the help of customers, we loaded Arco on a cot and took him to Gordon Memorial Hospital down the street, a situation from which he quickly recovered.

Maybe a year later, Arco, who was then in his forties, parked his truck in front of the Sinnett Funeral Home and came to the porch with an attractive, slightly-built young girl who was about 15, announcing that he and Nancy were getting married.

I said something about her being mighty young, after which he produced a paper giving parental consent for the union, attached to the marriage license.

"I need a good preacher to marry us," he said, "Do you know of any?" I thought of a local preacher who had a marryin. and buryin' history, and called him on the phone. He said send'em right over.

A few years past and Arco and Nancy began to have a number of children in rapid succession, with Arco sticking to his reputation as a farmer, beer drinker, and traveler to the mail box to get his monthly check. His drinking had obviously crossed the invisible line into alcoholism.

Arco had numerous incidents, car wrecks and weak-spells over the next few years, one of which involved his falling from his barn loft into a large manure pile, a situation that required an ambulance and transport to the newly opened Roane General Hospital.

Being dutiful ambulance attendants before the days of medical technology, my partner Allen Nicholas (real name) and I dug into the manure pile and extracted Arco, who was covered from head to toe.

We also were covered head to toe.

The new Pilipino physician was not impressed as we brought Arco into the emergency room, and ordered his removal to the parking lot to be soaped and hosed. He did not require admission.

As years went by, Arco didn't come to town much, but I heard that his drinking problem had worsened.

On a Sunday morning, getting breakfast at the Dairy Queen, the funeral home called and said they needed me to return right away. Driving down Market Street, I saw a Volkswagen bug parked in the funeral home driveway, standing outside was Arco's wife with a baby and his good buddy Frank.

Seated on the passenger side was a deceased Arco, Frank advising, "Rigor-mortis has done set in," with Arco's eyes-wide-open, staring straight ahead.

It seems Arco, his wife and one of the children, and his hunting buddy Frank had decided to drive 200-miles to Romney to deer hunt during a cold November week.

It is doubtful how much hunting they did, but there was surely a lot of imbibing, the three adults likely lapsing into stupor Saturday night to be awakened by dawns light to discover the passing of Arco in the front passenger seat.

Most folks, even back then, would have called for an ambulance, driven the deceased to the nearest hospital or called authorities. Instead they turned around and headed back to Spencer, delivering the remains straight to the funeral home in the Volkswagen Bug.

Driver Frank said they had to stop and get gas in the Volkswagen bug, and I've always wondered if there was a gas attendant somewhere who got slightly spooked by the eyes-wide-open stare of Arco, while he had the front hood open.

Removing the rigid Arco from the bug was no easy task, being watched by a West Virginia State Policeman, who was not happy that the man had been driven back to Roane through several counties, no one being notified.

Then came the funeral.

It would be fair to say Arco was the black sheep of his large, well-respected family, who filled the funeral chapel to hear the funeral sermon by his marryin' preacher who was now his buryin' preacher.

John Berkhouse (real name), a part-time funeral helper, while the preacher was putting Arco through the pearly gates, came out of the chapel assisting Arco's wife Nancy, who appeared to be in serious distress, walking her into the women's rest room.

Entering the rest room, John placed the nauseous woman on the commode, and it was soon apparent she was suffering a miscarriage. I offered to get an ambulance cot and take her to the hospital, a suggestion she denied.

Having aborted the tiny fetus in the commode, she said, "I want to go on to the cemetery to see him laid to rest."

She flushed the fetus, prepared herself and returned to participate in the rest of Arco's send-off.

(Most of the names of the principals in this true story have been changed)