Friday, April 8, 2011

Funerals and Furniture - What's the Connection?

Non-writers sometimes accuse authors of having quirky imaginations, and they could be right. Who else can turn seemingly worthless information into a full-length novel? But in all fairness, most of us get our inspiration from real life, like this story from a small town in Ohio.

After 122 years in business, Trostel’s Home Furnishings is going out of business. I remember the furniture store from when I was a kid. It was a family business located down the block from my father’s appliance store. Now, I haven’t lived in New Carlisle, Ohio since I was eleven years old, so I had no idea they’d stayed open all those years. According to the newspaper article my brother sent me, the next generation wasn’t interested in trying to keep the furniture store open. And, they couldn’t compete with the big discount stores.

But there’s more to this story. The Trostel family also owns the funeral home that has handled funerals in my family since 1947. Although the furniture portion of the family business has finally closed, Trostel’s Funeral Home is still in business in New Carlisle.

When the Trostel family established the business in 1888, the funeral home and furniture store was one business. I found this an odd combination, and my brother reminded me that in 1888, furniture and caskets were made by the same craftsmen. “They already had the wagon to deliver the furniture,” he said. “All they needed was a guy with a black suit, a preacher, and a guy who could dig.”

Can you picture the wagon delivering a beautiful hand-crafted rocking chair to a new mother, then stopping at the funeral home to pick up an old man’s casket and taking it to the cemetery on the hill outside town? Life and death in a small town.

In THE MITCHELL MONEY, the Martinson ranch is ten minutes from Maystown, a small town near Sedona and Flagstaff, Arizona. Gary Martinson’s great-great grandfather built the old section of town, the block of wooden buildings reminiscent of a Clint Eastwood movie set. The buildings have been modernized inside, the old horse troughs are filled with colorful flowers, and the street has been paved to keep the dust down, but that block still looks much the same as it had several generations ago.

Do you suppose Maystown, Arizona had a combination furniture store and funeral home like the one in New Carlisle, Ohio?

This is a short excerpt from THE MITCHELL MONEY, an April 29th release from TWRP. Johnny, the street kid Rachel took in, is up early, tending to the horses on Gary’s ranch. Gary walks out to the barn with Rachel.

Johnny rubbed Cassie’s head. “How long has the ranch been here?”

“My great-grandfather moved here when he was a young man,” said Gary. “He inherited enough money from his grandfather to buy some land and a few head of cattle. Early on, he made a pact with the Indians. If they’d help him with the cattle, he’d supply enough meat to feed their families. The ranch thrived, so he bought more land, and more. He was successful, but lonesome, so he built a stone cabin and went back to Ohio to find a wife. My great-grandmother didn’t mind the stone cabin, but she hated not living close to a town. Her name was May.”

“As in Maystown?”

Rachel cocked her head. “I didn’t know Maystown was named after your great-grandmother.”

“It was a gift,” said Gary. “After the buildings were up, he encouraged settlers to come here, so May would have someone else to talk to besides him.”

Rachel gazed into his eyes. “Main Street?”

“It’s been restored and fixed up a little over the years, but we’ve tried to keep the look and feel of the original town.”


“My family owned the buildings in the downtown area. When my father died, I deeded it to the town with the stipulation that the downtown area would be preserved as is. The buildings have modern conveniences, like electricity and plumbing, and the streets have been paved, but we’ve tried to preserve the look and feel of the old town. Modern buildings aren’t allowed in that area. No neon signs, no overhead wires, that kind of stuff.

“The merchants association maintains it now and the garden club takes care of the flowers in the old horse troughs. If they let it get too run down, the Martinson family reserves the right to take over again.”

“An insurance policy of sorts?” said Rachel.

“Something like that. If they decide they’d rather tear it down and put up a shopping mall, we’ll take it back.”

“It’s definitely worth saving. I can’t believe your great-grandfather did all that for his wife, then named it for her.”

Gary gazed into Rachel’s eyes. “He loved her.” It was a simple statement, but a powerful one. “He could have built her a bigger house, but that wasn’t what she wanted.”

“She wanted company,” murmured Rachel.

“Awesome!” said Johnny.

As Gary walked Rachel back to the house, he said, “Love is a powerful motivator. My great-grandfather gave the woman he loved what she wanted the most, and so will I.” He stopped on the porch to kiss her. “I’d build a town for you, honey. I’d do anything for you.”

(On the Run and On the Lam will be available soon in Kindle and Nook formats.)
(The Mitchell Money is now available on Amazon in print format.  Kindle format coming soon.)


  1. What is that cliche' expression about "you learn something new every day"? Well, I just did. Who would have thought the two were connected. Oh, and I loved the excerpt!

  2. Thanks, Patti. Ya gotta love small towns and family businesses that go on for generations!

  3. Very Interesting, Sue!!!

  4. It's something to keep in mind if you're writing a historical set in the late 1880's.

  5. That is a wonderful excerpt -- I love the way he showed her his love - by getting her company. Also love the combo furniture store/funeral home. Excellent interview!

  6. Thanks so much, Ann. My big brother is still teaching me things. Who knew furniture and funerals were connected?

    I love Gary and Rachel's story in The Mitchell Money. He falls deeply in love, but she's just coming off a miserable marriage, and she's not ready to trust another man. Not yet.

  7. Love your meandering down memory lane, Sue! I visited my hometown the last time about 7 or 8 years ago. The little rooming-house a half-block off the town square where my mother a father lived(I was born there)is long gone. Since I knew dirt when it was still a rock, I'm not surprised those buildings are dust. :)

    It was fun to ramble around the square and browse in the stores. Some have been there for...ever, it seems. The Courthouse in the middle of the square is a beautiful building, and houses the county records, since it's the county seat of Coryell County. This is in Gatesville, Texas.

    Thanks for prodding my memory of lovely things and times past.

  8. I love Texas. We lived in the Houston area for a few years when the kids were small. Gatesville sounds like a nice town.

    ON THE LAM is set mostly in the Texas Hill Country. I called it Caledonia County. Callie is married to the big, bad sheriff when she runs away from his cruelty. If not for Bo, the sheriff would have killed her for sure. Bo is a reluctant hero, a former Marine wounded in Iraq, but he comes to her rescue.

  9. Hi Sue,
    Great blog.That is so interesting about the furniture and coffin combination, but quite reasonable when you really think about it.
    Loved the excerpt too.



  10. Thanks, Margaret. I never would have connected the funeral business with the furniture business if my brother hadn't sent me the newspaper article about the furniture store closing. Yes, it makes sense.

  11. Sue,

    This is a very cool article. I wouldn't have imagined a funeral business and furniture store together, but the way you describe it, it makes perfect sense.

  12. I didn't put it together either, Cara, until I read this newspaper article. It makes sense the way my brother described it.

  13. It's a bit gruesome to contemplate but coffins are a kind of furniture I guess. Makes sense that the two businesses would be combined in less PC days. Thanks for the interesting post, and I really enjoyed the excerpt.

  14. Hi, Sue!
    Here in Wisconsin we still have families who own furniture stores and funeral parlors, but many are selling one or the other.
    Great excerpt, BTW!

  15. It seemed like an odd partnership, yet over a hundred years ago, the same craftsmen built coffins and furniture. I remember when my grandfather, a master carpenter, built a tiny coffin for my little dog.

  16. I keep listening to the news about getting online furniture so I have been looking around for the best site to get it all.