Being prepared isn’t just for Boy Scouts


Milburn Schwalm answered the buzz of the front door as they stood breathlessly at the top of the six or so steps of Schwalm, Stigge and Peckner.  The November sun was only beginning to make its way across the still-green lawn at the home and they stood silently in the shade, shivering ever so slightly.

“Welcome, welcome!  Nice to see you Nan, Bill, going to be a nice day, huh?”

“Hi Mil” Bill said warmly.

“Good morning, Milburn” Nancy replied, still chilled.

“Come right on in, can I get you a cup of coffee?”

“I’d love one, Mil.  Thanks”

“No thanks, never touch the stuff Milburn”

“Okay, just step on over here to my desk.  I’ll go get that cup.  You take cream and sugar, Bill?”

“Sure thing, if you’ve got it Mil, but don’t put yourself out.  I can drink it however it comes.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

He bustled off toward the kitchenette at the back of the foyer.  They sat in the red-satined chairs in front of the well-worn maple desk he had led them to.  Bill leaned back and nonchalantly thumped his hand up and down on the armrest to some unknown tune.  Nancy sat, heels crossed, coat folded in her lap, lips pursed.

“Nice place.  Haven’t been here since about ’14, happy to say.  Think it was Bob Foster’s deal maybe?  Sound about right?”  Bill offered.

“I don’t know, I try not to keep track of those things.”

“Pretty sure it was Bob.  He never had much use for family and even less for church.  In fact, I think that was the one that Perdeal did and couldn’t ever even get his name right.  Kept calling him Ben.  Poor sap!  He’d been away from the pulpit too long.  He looked like he was going to be the next one in the box instead of the one in front of it droning on and on.”  He made a face, tongue lolled out the side of his mouth, head rolling around with his hands in circles.

She frowned.

“If you’re not careful that’ll be you sooner than later.  That heart won’t last forever dumping buckets of coffee and dozens of donuts on top of it every morning at the coffee shop.”

“Yeah, I imagine.  It’s a slow march when it comes to it but we’re all gonna go.  May as well live it up while we can!”

She shot him a dark look.

“That’s no way to talk!  Doing nothing or worse yet, doing bad things for your body is no way to live.  Why if I-“

“Here’s that cup, Bill.  I found the cream but no sugar, hope that’s okay.”  Milburn offered as he returned briskly.

“Aces, Mil!  No trouble on that.  Thanks.”

Milburn settled into his desk and moved a couple of pieces of material to the side and leaned in toward them, smiling.

“I’m so glad you folks stopped in today.  I know these kind of things are uncomfortable for people but they’re necessary and making arrangements ahead of time can take a significant burden off your kids when the time comes.  They still live out of state?”

“Yes, Milburn.  Diane is in Illinois and Steven is in Kansas and they’re very busy.  They both have children in middle and high school.  They’re constantly running so much we hardly ever get a chance to see them unless we go there.  We’d barely know our grandkids if we didn’t make the trip several times a year.”

Bill nodded in agreement as did Milburn.

“I understand.  Seems things only get busier and busier these days.  And that’s reason again to set things up in advance.  Peace of mind knowing you’re prepared is well worth it.  Shall we get started?”

They both nodded in consent.

“Let’s start with you Nancy.  Now, we offer a comprehensive package where we take care of everything from beginning to end and I understand that’s what you’re both interested in?”

He looked up expectantly as they both nodded in consent once again.

“So, Nancy, would you prefer the service be here or at your church?”

“At my church, Blessed Lutheran, of course.”

“Okay, and is there an officiant you would prefer?”

“Yes, Pastor Williams.  If he is unavailable, I would like Pastor Dean from Stewart.  He was our pastor for years until the church saw to it to transfer him.”

“Okay, perfect.  Always good to have more than one chosen.  Now, would you prefer a visitation?”

“No, I don’t see any reason to make a big deal of it.  Just a single, simple, service should be fine.”

“Okay, some prefer the visitation to allow a second option for those who can’t come due to work or whatever, but that’s completely up to you.”  Again he looked at her expectantly.

“No, that just means my family has to go through the thing twice and I don’t think that’s very fair, what with kids and all.”

“Perfectly fine.  Now, open or closed casket.”

“Closed, absolutely, closed.  I dread going to services with an open casket.  So uncomfortable.  Besides, that’s not the last impression I want people to have of me.”

“Certainly, certainly.  Now any particular scripture you would like read at the service?”

“No, I trust the pastor’s discretion and choice. He’s been my spiritual leader for long enough, I think he’ll do an acceptable job.”

“Okay, absolutely fine.  Any particular music you would prefer, whether sung by a soloist or by the congregation?”

“I’ve always liked “Just a closer walk with thee” and “How great thou art” but no soloist, no.  I think they always struggle and it seems like such a production to have a soloist.  And only the two hymns, please, no need to make people stand up and sit down multiple times.”

“I understand.  Now, I assume you would like a graveside service for those that can attend the day of?”

“No, none of that.  No need.  If my family would like to be there when they put me in the ground that’s fine and if the pastor can be there, that’s fine also, but no sense in having everyone traipsing around the cemetery and if the weather’s bad, just standing there waiting for the pastor to get his thing done so they can come back for egg salad sandwiches anyway so, no.  I don’t want that.”

“Okay, that just about wraps it up.  Oh, one last thing, memorials.  Any particular charities or causes you would like memorials to go to?”

“Do I have to?  I mean it seems like people give out of a sense of obligation, not really out of a sense of charity.”

“No, you don’t have to.  However, if none are designated any memorials would have to be directed at your family’s choice which is another decision for them to make.”

“Okay, well then how about the FBLA program at the high school?  Or the church youth mission program?”

“Those are excellent choices and I’m sure they would be appreciative.”

He scanned his sheet for completeness and then turned to Bill.

“So, Bill, since you heard all the things Nancy addressed, any changes for you?”

Bill glanced to his left and began.

“Well, Mil, I’d like to have a visitation.  I know a lot of guys don’t like a funeral but they’ll show up in their jeans for a visitation, especially if there’s coffee and cookies or something.  Can you do that?”

“Sure, Bill.  We do a visitation with a light snack often here at the home.  What else?”

“I’d like our Associate Pastor Tim Glenn to give the address or whatever you call it.  I’ve had some good discussions at Beer n Burger at The Elks the past few months.  And, oh, by the way, that’s where I’d like memorials to go to, The Elks.”

“Okay, certainly permissible.  Just The Elks?”

“Well, you know, it’s probably a good idea to have two, huh?  Okay, how about the town softball association?  They’re good guys and could use the money.”

“Okay, anything else?  Music?”

Bill smiled, afraid to look left again, “I’d like the theme from “Rocky” to play when they wheel me out.  You know, ‘Gonna fly now’?  I think it’s kind of appropriate and uplifting.  And if we’re going to do that I’d like “I drive your truck” to begin the service.  I think the guys from coffee would like that.”

“Isn’t that by Lee Brice, Bill?”

“Yeah that sounds about right.  I suppose you can put a religious song in the middle somewhere and I’ll leave that up to Tim.  I’m sure he’ll have some ideas.”

“Certainly, any thoughts on scripture?”

“I’ve always liked the 23rd Psalm, you know ‘valley of the shadow of death’ and all.  Then there’s one about ‘going before you to prepare a place’ something about my father’s house having many rooms?”

“I think I know it, Bill.  Might be John 14, the first three or four verses?”

“Could be, sounds about right, Mil.  Maybe check with Tim on that but I think we’re on the same page.

He braved a sideways look at his bride.  No surprises there.  Mouth a straight line, eyes fixed directly ahead, arms crossed; even her breathing was shallow and deliberate.  Milburn scanned the page for completeness.

“We’ve sort of jumped around here, let’s see…  Oh, open or closed?”

“Oh, open, the guys have told me they’re going to put a hammer or fishin’ lure or whatever in with me, you know, kind of for the other side and all?”

Milburn smiled, “All right.  Sounds like you’ve got some real characters for friends Bill.”

“Oh, yeah, they’re a cast of misfits all right, but better guys you won’t run into.”  He drew a breath.  “You know, you wouldn’t think a bunch of guys sitting around in work boots and coveralls would be much for support but I wouldn’t hesitate to call on them if I needed anything.  We’ve been through an awful lot together and they’ve always been there.”  He exhaled audibly and shot another sideways glance over.  No change.

“Super, Bill.  Yeah, you just can’t substitute for good friends, I know.  Well you two, I think that wraps things up for today.  Of course if you think of anything else, by all means give me a call.  We’re almost always here….”


The steps down always posed a problem since his hip surgery but she marched down them at the home like she was headed to the gallows.  Back rigid, eyes straight ahead, he could almost feel the hot vapor trail as he followed her to the pickup.  He was easing into his seat, door barely closed when she started.

“Rocky?!  The theme from Rocky and “I drive your truck”?  Why don’t you just have it in a barn?”

“Never thought of that, I guess.  You think it’d keep your mom and brother from coming?”

“William, I have no idea what you’re thinking half the time.  A little decorum and respect for the service and those who take it seriously would be nice.  And what makes you think they’ll be clamoring to come to your hoe-down funeral anyway?”

It was his turn to purse his lips.  They had other stops to make today.

There’s more to come in Bill and Nancy’s day.  I’ll continue this next week.  They have a lot more ground to cover.

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