SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - The Night My Grandpa Died


John Ira and Mary Virginia Riggs McCoy at
Hur, 1945, on their 50th wedding anniversary

By Bob Weaver

It was September 1950 that our crank up phone rang, a long and two shorts, my mom answered to hear the panicky voice of her mother, who said she'd better come, her dad was having a "bad spell."

We had all gone to bed in our tiny bedrooms, curtained-off from the living room of our four-room house, all to be aroused by the ringing phone.

My mom was a pretty collected woman, but the distress on her face seemed ominous as she told my dad that John Ira McCoy had collapsed to the floor in the dining room and they had carried him to the bedroom where he and my grandmother has slept for 55 years.

We quickly dressed, my dad pulled on his pants and shoes, as my mom announced the 77-year-old man was having trouble breathing and having severe pains in his chest.

Rather than fire up the Chevy, we quickly walked down the steep hill to the McCoy homestead, where John Ira and Mary Virginia Riggs had raised their nine children since their marriage in 1895.

It was the foreboding silence as we rushed down the hill that meant the call was serious.

The open flame light at the end of a gas pipe was glowing in the yard, outdoor lighting before the coming of electricity, and the traditional single-mantle gas light on the enclosed front porch illuminated the entry.

Grandma met us in the narrow hallway, asking my mother to call Dr. Toepher. She went to the wall telephone and cranked-up Leona Sturm, the switch operator in Hur, and asked her to summon him and for all the family members to come as quickly as they could.

Uncle Eddie, a bachelor who never left home was there, and shortly Aunt Thelma Roach and Uncle Glen McCoy and their spouses and children arrived from their farms down on Barnes Run.

The event would become a death vigil.

The bedroom had no light, and Uncle Eddie lit an oil lamp with Grandma giving her husband a number of over-the-counter pills to relieve his pain.

The family had a propensity for buying medication for every ailment, pills, ointments and elixirs, and at that time took a dose of Hadacol for an extra boost.

See SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - The Hadacol Boogie

They took turns sitting on the feather-tick mattress, comforting him.

My mom placed warm washcloths on his forehead and smeared Vick's mentholated salve on his neck and chest to improve his breathing.

Vick's salve was the most frequently used remedy for every breathing problem or sore throat, and would be amply smeared on an ailing person to be cloaked by a heated cloth.

Several neighbors, called by the switch operator, soon filled the house.

Dr. H. C. Toepher appeared with his medical bag, examined the old man, and gave him a couple of shots.

A defining moment was when the doctor came to the front porch, where my grandmother was silently weeping, and announced to the assemblage that his death was imminent and nothing more could be done.

My mother and her sister Thelma burst into tears and Uncle Eddie walked out into the darkness.

Dr. Toepher was served some coffee and my mother instructed me to go into grandpa's room.

At age 10, it was the first time I had looked into the unconscious face of a dying person, but I remember well touching his hand and face before I left the room.

The soft-spoken man had been a good grandpa.

It seemed like hours past, his breathing becoming more labored, when the doctor made the announcement of his demise.

My mother went to the old wall phone and cranked the operator, telling her to call the funeral home.

Through the 1950s it was not uncommon to have a photograph
taken of a deceased family member, here is John Ira McCoy
reposing in his casket in the living room during his wake

The sun was beginning to come up and the men had moved to the front yard when the hearse arrived to remove his body. They dutifully helped get him on a stretcher and carry him to the road.

His body was returned to the house for a wake, with well over a hundred people coming to the McCoy house for the vigil, then to have his funeral and burial at the Hur church.

During the rest of her life on September 21, the day of his death, my mom would say, it was the day her dad died, often shedding a few tears.

I would recall his most memorable words to me, "Be not afraid, it will all work out."

See SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - "Hard To Get Excited About It Now"

And SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - You Shall Cross The Barren Desert, Be Not Afraid Becky 'Coy