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The Undertaker's Daughter

This book can be downloaded and read in Apple Books on your Mac or iOS device.


What if the place you called “home” happened to be a funeral home? Kate Mayfield explores what it meant to be the daughter of a small-town undertaker in this fascinating memoir evocative of Six Feet Under and The Help, with a hint of Mary Roach’s Stiff.

The first time I touched a dead person, I was too short to reach into the casket, so my father picked me up and I leaned in for that first, empty, cold touch. It was thrilling, because it was an unthinkable act.

After Kate Mayfield was born, she was taken directly to a funeral home. Her father was an undertaker, and for thirteen years the family resided in a place nearly synonymous with death. A place where the living and the dead entered their house like a vapor. The place where Kate would spend the entirety of her childhood. In a memoir that reads like a Harper Lee novel, Mayfield draws the reader into a world of Southern mystique and ghosts.

Kate’s father set up shop in a small town where he was one of two white morticians during the turbulent 1960s. Jubilee, Kentucky, was a segregated, god-fearing community where no one kept secrets—except the ones they were buried with. By opening a funeral home, Kate’s father also opened the door to family feuds, fetishes, and victims of accidents, murder, and suicide. The family saw it all. They also saw the quiet ruin of Kate’s father, who hid alcoholism and infidelity behind a cool, charismatic exterior. As Mayfield grows from trusting child to rebellious teen, she begins to find the enforced hush of the funeral home oppressive, and longs for the day she can escape the confines of her small town.

In The Undertaker’s Daughter, Kate has written a triumph of a memoir. This vivid and stranger-than-fiction true story ultimately teaches us how living in a house of death can prepare one for life.

From Publishers Weekly

Sep 15, 2014 – The Mayfield family moved to Jubilee, Ky., in 1959, when the author was in kindergarten, so that her parents could open their own funeral home. In this gently meandering narrative, Mayfield revisits those early years, when she lived upstairs in the rambling three-story house with its constantly ringing phones ("We've got a body") and, along with her three siblings, stayed absolutely quiet whenever a service was taking place downstairs. The embalming room was closed off to everyone but her impeccably turned-out father, a WWII veteran, and his assistants; gradually young Kate overcame her squeamishness to ask probing questions about her dad's work on cadavers and even spied on him in action laboring over strange equipment and chemicals, which was against the rules. A deep friendship with an older eccentric outsider, Ms. Agnes Davis, offered a Miss Havisham model of independence and decency. The 1960s brought desegregation to the schools of Jubilee, which rattled the status quo for the white residents of the town and also provided the mischievous narrator the opportunity to develop crushes on two black boys, Noah and Julian. Her infatuations garnered severe reprimands from the principal, her parents, and the boys' friends. Mayfield's "secret life" forced her to lie and sneak around, and her teenage angst was only compounded by the brutal revelation from her sister Evelyn, a thoroughly unpleasant bully, that her father was a serial philanderer and a drunk. Mayfield fashions a poignant send-off to Jubilee in this thoughtfully rendered work.
The Undertaker's Daughter
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  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Biographies & Memoirs
  • Published: Jan 13, 2015
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • Print Length: 368 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: This book can only be viewed on an iOS device with Apple Books on iOS 12 or later, iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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