The Hearse Next Door

When we first moved into our little house, I immediately fell in love with the gorgeous canopy tree-lined street. Being an established neighborhood, many of the small houses and gardens still had that old-fashioned charm. A week after moving in, a delightfully odd thing happened. A huge porcupine went waddling down the sidewalk and headed towards the ravine. I was so amused to see such a creature strolling past our home. The porcupine was not the only mysterious visitor that we had. A few days later while looking out the window, I noticed a hearse parked out front along the street.  Had someone died? Perhaps there was a neighbor who worked for the coronary office? My curiosity led me to investigate further into the elegant smokey grey catafalque.

I discovered no one had died that day on our street, and the hearse didn’t belong to anyone working for the coronary office. The car belonged to my next-door neighbors’ older brother named Ray. When I asked him why he had a hearse, Ray said, “because I like it”. “Fair enough,” I replied. I later asked Ray if he would like to do an interview with me to talk about his hearse. He seemed pretty happy and agreed to schedule a meeting.

On September 24th, early in the afternoon, I met Ray outside of my house for the interview. When I reached the car, he asked if I wanted to go for a ride and visit the graveyard to get some good photos. I  was both nervous and excited to see what this interview would bring. Here I was getting into a death car with a stranger and driving off into the unknown. With reluctant enthusiasm, I got into the car and we drove away.  

Me: What year and make is this car?   

Ray: 1989. Buick

Is this the original interior?

Ray: Yup.

It is in really good condition. And it still has a radio. {It’s awkward} I really like the colour. It’s like a smokey blue. Really wide seats and super comfortable. Yup, excellent condition.  How long have you had the car?

Ray: About three years. 

Were you looking to buy a hearse?

Ray: Yup. It was just there parked at the side of the road one day. 

And you saw it and just said, oh my god, I just have to have that car? (Laughs). What time of the year was that?

Ray: Summer. 

So why were you looking for a hearse? Let’s be honest, not everybody would buy a hearse. What would inspire you to want to purchase this kind of car? 

Ray: I always wanted one. I wanted one for a long time. And it was there one day and I got it. 

Can I ask how much it cost?

Ray: $5000.

Oh wow, not what I was expecting. That is a really good deal. I’m really surprised that it wasn’t a lot more. The interior is in excellent condition. 

Ray: Yup

Do you know the history of this car? 

Ray:  It’s from a funeral home in a small town, here in Alberta. Can’t remember the name. 

Did you meet the guy who used to drive it?

Ray: Ya, I got it from the guy who had it before me. He worked at the funeral home. He dropped it off at my house.

I wonder why they were selling it.

Ray: Probably just so they could get a newer one. 

When do you like to use the car? Do you have certain days that you take it out for a drive?

Ray: On my days off. 

Do you use it to move things?

Ray: Ya one day I was hauling lumber.

Do you travel anywhere with it?

Ray: No.

How about car shows for a hearse? Are there any clubs?

Ray: There is a club in Edmonton. 

Do you go to the club meetings or shows.

Ray: Nope. No time. 

Have you ever had any funny experiences while you were driving the car? 

Ray: Oh ya!

Can you tell me about them?

Ray: One person saluted one day. People like it. 

Have you ever come across someone who didn’t?

Ray: This old lady says “what are you driving that for?” 

(Laughs)

I think sometimes people are afraid of anything that is associated with death. It’s like a taboo topic. 

Ray: Ya the old lady who’s my neighbor. She said not to park that thing in front of her house. She said to park anything else, but not that one there. 

Is she still your neighbor?

Ray: Nope, she died already. She was eighty-nine years old. 

(Laughs) “Oh” 

Do any of your friends like to go for rides with you in the car?

Ray: Not too many. Nope.

(Laughs). Ya, I guess a lot of people would be intimidated to go in a hearse. I mean, after all, it is a death carriage. 

Ray: You’re the second one. 

Oh, well thank you then. I feel privileged. That’s great.  So when you go by graveyards do you think everybody will just assume there is a body in the back. 

Ray: No

(Laughs) I would, I would assume it. I’d be like, oh there goes a body, someone died. You don’t think that way?

Ray: No

I have to ask, do you think your car might be haunted? 

Ray: It’s not haunted.

Is that because you don’t believe in ghosts, or because you just don’t think that this car is haunted?

Ray: Nope, it’s not haunted. Ya, I believe in them, but it’s not haunted yet.

(Laughs) It will be you, you’ll be the one haunting it one day. Laughs.  (Note: I later lost my pen and blamed it on his ghost.)If I find a ghost in one of the photos that I took would you want to see it?

Ray: Sure!

Wtf. There’s a tombstone in the back of your car. Who’s is it?

Ray: I don’t know? Can you read french?

Did the tombstone come with the car? How did you get it?

Ray: I got it at the antique mall. 

Wow, it’s beautiful. It’s like old hand-carved wood. And you just keep it in the back of the car?

Ray: Yup, that’s the place for it.

But I find it strange that a person could buy a used or personalized tombstone at a farmers market. 

Ray: It was rescued. It’s from a graveyard in Ontario somewhere.

Interesting.

Ray: It’s a good place for it, right here in this car.

Yes, it is. And it’s good it is with someone who is taking care of it, and respecting it.  

Ray: I want to get a coffin and put it in the back.

wtf. A coffin? What kind of a coffin do you want to put in the back? A metal one? A wooden one?

Ray: A real one. A wooden one.

Fancy or plain?

Ray: Fancy

So you have put some thought into this. Would you ever sleep in it?

Ray: Yup. Ya, why not.

Go to the store, open it up, pull out the coffin, and someone comes out. (Laughs).

(Laughs). That’s funny!

Ray: What are they going to say, no you can’t do that.

And so you’ll be buried in this coffin?

Ray: Nope. Just burn it up. 

Cremated then. Ya, it’s expensive to buy burial land. Lots of people are going that route now. 

Do you have any intentions of selling the car?

Ray: Nope.

This may sound morbid, but when you pass on, do you want to be brought to your resting place in this car?

Ray Smiles: Maybe.

It might be something you will want to put in your will at some point.
Are there any other cars that you would like to collect? 

Ray: Nope. Already have ten cars.

Oh, you have ten other cars? Is there any other hearse? What kind of cars?

Ray: Nope. Older cars.

What would you like to tell others who are interested in buying a hearse?

Ray: Get an original and keep it original. I know a guy that’s got one and he put a fucking skeleton on the front. It ruins them. It’s disrespectful. Let it stay the way it was. 

So then, your passion for this vehicle is that it stays in its original form because that is the beauty of the car itself?

Ray nods his head yes.

Well, that was a great interview Ray. Thank you so much for your time driving around and your enthusiasm at the photoshoot. 

Ray Smiles: Welcome. 

And we are back home safe and sound, in one piece, still breathing. (Laughs)

End

Halfway through the interview, we stopped off at the Tim Horton’s on Whyte Ave to grab a couple of coffees. After that, we took a drive downtown and Ray showed me where all the new buildings were going up and where the new Museum was. It was clear that Ray was really enjoying himself driving around in his hearse. He had mentioned that he puts it away for the winter and there wasn’t much time left to enjoy it this year. Therefore, the interview was a great convenience for him to go for a long drive in his favorite car. The one hour interview turned into four hours of meandering through the city and photo opportunities in the Mount Royal Cemetery. I was grateful for the time he shared; Ray was pretty quiet at first, but as time went on, he seemed to feel more comfortable and began to share information. This was pivotal for the interview.

I did notice as we were driving around that some of the people who were standing on the sidewalks would glance over at us. From my observations, people do seem to form expressions of curiosity when they see a hearse driving by.  Some smiled understanding that it was a collector’s car out on a cruise, while others tried to stretch their eyes into another direction. It is understandable that we all deal with the concept of death differently. A hearse is a symbol of death and can easily trigger fears or reactions. 

As for the car being haunted, I can tell you that I did not feel any presence in the car. Not even from the tombstone. There were two photos that I took which looked like a person’s face in the small window, but it was also very possible that the lighting and reflections could have created it. And I must admit, it’s kind of weird driving around in a hearse with a stranger. (Awkward laughs) As a sensitive person, I chose to stay grounded and focused on the questions and answers, as well as photography. I thought it went decently well. 



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