Death and taxes

By Barbara F. Dyer | Sep 27, 2018

You have heard the old saying, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” We can all vouch for that, as both hit us from time to time. The Camden tax bills are just received, but they were expected and not all gratefully accepted. We just take a deep breath and pay them when due.

It reminds me of how differently mourning and grieving were in Camden and elsewhere years ago. When there was a death in a family, a wreath (or crepe) was hung on the front door. Some people wore black arm bands and/or dressed in black. It was the mourning color and most who attended a funeral dressed in dark colors. Widows, early on, wore black for two years and were not supposed to enter society or go to any social events for 12 months during deep mourning. Every person is different and that is the way it is supposed to be; therefore, every person grieves differently as they feel the great loss, and will miss that person so much. Every religion has its own belief and customs, but the fundamental Christians believe their loved one is going to a better place. In the Bible, under John 3:16, they believe, ”For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

When I was a very young child, we were friendly with a neighbor, whose mother and father died when they were quite old. She dressed entirely in black, and I mean entirely. We children used to visit her and she would sit near the kitchen wood stove, putting her feet up on the oven door shelf. People always sat in the kitchen for everyday company and, of course, it was the warmest place in the house. We arrived home one day and exclaimed, “Ma, our nice neighbor is still dressed in black. She even wears black bloomers!” Well, she dressed in black for many years, and one day we saw her downtown dressed in pink. I couldn't believe my eyes. She was about 70 years of age, by that time.

I have observed some people going to a funeral today, dressed in shorts and dungarees, and they look like they were going to a picnic. Now food is usually served after the funeral, and one man I knew told his wife, ”Following my funeral, I don't want any 'picnic.’” Well, for my committal service, I don't want my ashes to go in a hearse, but in the funeral director's sports car. The ashes will be buried in an amethyst bean pot. It is black and I like amethyst. See, I told you we are all different.

Many customs of old have gone by the wayside. In the past, many homes had two living rooms and one was used only for weddings and funerals. In recent years, I have not heard of anyone buried from home, except I had a dear friend whose husband died and she kept him in the living room for a week, until the family could all be there. Then when she died, she also lay in state in her living room for a few days of viewing. There do not seem to be quite as many church funerals. Some are held in the funeral home for viewing and/or the service. In Camden, the funeral home is furnished so nicely, one feels it is like a home setting and family-friendly. But many have just a graveside committal service. Just as people are dressing much more casual, they are choosing the small, easy way. People always were buried in a lovely casket and then a vault, but now cremation seems to be the trend.

Many years ago, people were making items out of a deceased one's hair. It was an important thing to do. It was the Victorian era when they made wreaths, bracelets, brooches, rings and even buttons to wear, so their loved one would be near them. A hair wreath was a way of telling a family history and when a member died they saved some of the hair in a “hair receiver.” Books with instruction on this art were sold about 1867. Made in a U shape, were wreaths and the most recently deceased member's hair had the place of honor in the middle. The open end of the wreath symbolized their ascent into heaven. The wreaths were usually placed in a shadow box.

Believe it or not, Sears, Roebuck sold hair jewelry, shown in their 1900 catalog. Hair wreaths are sometimes sold today at auction, priced anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.

It was in the Marine Museum in Searsport where I first saw them. It was a way of remembering because, “You are really never gone, as long as you are remembered.” I think it is beautiful that someone cared so much for their loved ones.

It was about two generations ago, people were superstitious about everything. I remember my grandmother saying, “Now don't walk under a ladder! Don't let a black cat cross your path.” I love black cats, and they can cross my path anytime they desire. But there were also superstitions about death. Birds were a bad omen, maybe because they could move between the earth and the sky. A bird hitting a window or flying into a house, through a window or door, was an omen of death in that home. Pecking its beak on the window or seeing an owl in the daytime was also a sign of death. It was always said that if two celebrities die there will be a third one soon after. Thunder after a funeral means the deceased has entered heaven. Flowers only grow on graves of the good. Bury the dead with their head pointed west, and their feet pointed east, I guess because sunrise has always symbolized birth, while sunsets symbolize death.

Well, probably that is enough or my readers will think I am morbid. But it is history, and death is a part of living, as we look forward to a better place. An epitaph read:

“She lived with her husband fifty years and died in the confident hope of a better life.”


Barbara F. Dyer has lived all her life, so far, in Camden and is the official town historian.





Comments (2)
Posted by: Barbara Dyer | Oct 01, 2018 11:58

Thank you Mickey for your comments


Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Sep 29, 2018 16:23

Barbara, that last statement made me chuckle! Glad you and I are hanging in here!

Mary "Mickey" McKeever

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