A hearse out of time
Becky Winsor, Yacolt
Picture it. Germany, 1964. The medieval, walled town of Kleinsteinbach, complete with a small medieval castle on the hill just inside the walls.
We were a military family living in Germany. We paid my way over there the previous year, as it was during the Berlin crisis, and the military wasn’t taking any families over.
We lived just outside the city of Karlsruhe in a German subdivision. My husband was stationed about 25 miles away at a missile site near the town of Pforzheim. He would sometimes be unable to leave there for a few days at a time, so I would take the kids up for an occasional visit.
On Halloween 1964, I had driven up to the missile site and stayed a bit later than I intended, so I drove the back roads home rather than taking the autobahn. The back roads wound through a few little hamlets, but there was little to no traffic at that time of night — as opposed to breakneck speeds and spectacular accidents on the autobahn. I had four small children with me, the youngest at just 2 months old.
It was exactly midnight when I entered the cobblestoned town square of Kleinsteinbach. I knew this for sure as the old town clock was striking the hour as I entered the nearly deserted town. The only other living thing in sight was a horse-drawn hearse coming toward me across the square. It was an ancient thing with glass sides, carrying a coffin inside, draped in dark fabric with what looked like dark-colored flowers on top. The driver was wearing clothes that looked like they came from a Dickens novel and a stovepipe hat. The only sounds were the clock and the clop, clop, clop of the slow horse’s hooves on the cobblestone. The hair on my arms stood at attention and a cold shiver crept up my spine and into the hair on my the back of my neck. I slowed down, both from fear and out of respect. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The proverbial time warp entered my mind but the kids shattered that thought quite readily. I drove on and made it home to my great relief.
I’ve never forgotten the details of that Halloween and often wonder who might have wanted such a funeral, all alone, at midnight on All Hallow’s Eve.