The Saga of Julia Bohon Sampe’s
Return to Idaho

by Arne Sampe

We held a funeral service for my mother, Julia Sampe, in Sacramento on December 5, 2001. It would have been her ninety-seventh birthday. After several Toastmasters, storytellers, friends, relatives, and church folk told stories about Julia, we all sang “Happy Birthday.” Toastmaster Tom Prittie provided a birthday cake. Then the minister and I sang “And Here We Have Idaho.” No one else knew the words.

My brother Ron and I had arranged to transport our mother’s body from Sacramento to Idaho. It is possible to personally transport the body of a loved one, if you can get the necessary permits to cross state lines, Idaho and Nevada in this case, and meet three conditions:

1. Body is embalmed.
2. Casket is sealed.
3. Vehicle conceals the casket.

We were able to meet all three conditions by transporting Mother in my big red Ford truck with the camper on back. Ron and I picked up Mother at 5 P.M. the day of the funeral. We could not close the tailgate to the truck, as the casket was three inches longer than the truck bed. We wrapped a tarp around the casket and secured it very tightly to the truck. Ron took the truck home and parked it in the garage for the night. He also took home the leftover flowers and birthday cake. The flowers would die if left in Sacramento but would freeze if taken to Idaho. They went to Idaho. The cake stayed in Sacramento.

On December 6, at 7 A.M. we proceeded toward Idaho in three vehicles. Granddaughter Shawna and her family went in the lead truck. Son Ronald and his family went in the second truck. My friend Bill Schneider, the dog Charlie, and I went third in the big red truck. All vehicles had walkie-talkies, cell phones, and tire chains.

The roads were clear, and we made swift progress across California and Nevada. When the convoy turned north to Idaho, however, the weather became stormy. We were in a full blizzard by the time we got nine miles inside the Idaho border. The big red truck went into a slide. The rear tire blew out, providing extra traction to the truck, thus driving the truck into a ditch. We crashed into the ditch and turned upside down. The roadbed was about 13 feet higher than the borrow pit.

The seat belt held Bill in his seat, upside down. The ropes held the casket suspended in the truck, also upside down. Charlie and I were free of the seat belts; I proceeded to get Bill down. Bill got out of the truck cab immediately. I, however, insisted on finding a coat first. It was a blizzard out there, and I was not going out without my coat.

You would be amazed at how hard it is to find anything in a truck that is upside down. Nothing was where it used to be, including the cut flowers in the back seat. They were scattered everywhere. I wanted my address book, and I couldn’t find it.

I was still looking for it when a handsome truck driver with rippling muscles arrived in a forty-foot semi with at least ten tires. The semi was partially loaded with five-gallon bottles of water. The driver helped us pull Mother’s suspended casket from the truck, and we put it on the snowy ground in the borrow pit. A blizzard was raging all around us. Ron and sister-in-law Carol arrived. The truck driver grabbed up Mother with sister-in-law and Ron hanging on and guided Mother back up the thirteen feet to the road. Mother was put into the back of the semi, and the truck driver and Ron drove off for Twin Falls.

Since the casket was gone, I crawled into the back of the upside-down truck and removed all the luggage, which we transferred to Carol's truck. I found my address book. A policeman arrived and took a statement about the accident. I added, “I may be irrational, but I am competent.” Well, after all, I had gotten all the luggage out of the truck, kept my house keys in my pocket, put all the loose items from the cab in an empty suitcase, found my address book in my Toastmaster bag, and put my coat on. Of course I was competent.

The truck driver went to Twin Falls, but since he was driving a forty-foot semi, he could not drive on the city streets, so he went to Fred Meyers Shopping Mall on Blue Lakes Boulevard. There the driver waited for my brother Harold to arrive from work. When Harold got there, Mother was transferred to his vehicle, and he drove it home to his house. The casket was now in full view, as the tarps did not go with it. There Mother spent the night in a garage again. I have a vision of my brothers sitting on the casket in the parking lot. This probably did not happen.

When Bill and I finally arrived at Harold's house, I called my cousin Merle, who drove his truck in a thunder and lighting snowstorm from Burley, over 30 miles away. When the lighting flashed, the sky turned blue. We put Mother in Merle’s truck, and Bill and I got in. Merle dropped us off at Mother’s house, and he went on to Burley, Idaho. He parked his rig in the front yard, so Mother spent the night in the front yard in Burley.

The next morning, we all went over to Merle's house for breakfast, and to take Mother to the mortuary in Rupert, Idaho. I mentioned that an Allen wrench would pop the casket open so that we could see if Mother had suffered any damage from the truck overturning. No takers.

When we arrived at the mortuary, the personnel were aware of the truck turn-over. I figured that they would wheel the casket to a discreet place and pop the casket open to see what the damage was. No. We were barely inside the mortuary, when they popped open the casket, and everyone crowded around to see the damage. A bruise on the forehead was the only damage. A touch of makeup covered the bruise. The casket, despite its many travels, was still waterproof and sealable; otherwise, a new casket would have been required.

The next day, Mother was transported to the Methodist Church for the funeral service.

Brother Harold noticed that Mother's car keys were in the casket. Her car had long been gone. When he asked why the car keys were in the casket, I replied that with Mother being shuffled around between so many trucks, cars, and a semi, she would be wanting to drive her own car in the next world.

Several members of the congregation told stories of things that Mother had done. I talked about the time I’d made her be the water man in the church play, “The Last Supper.” Little did I know that Mother’s last ride to Twin Falls would be in a water truck. After “How Great Thou Art,” the members of the congregation sang “And Here We Have Idaho.” This congregation knew the words.

Arne Sampe lives in Sacramento, but he used to live in Paul, Idaho, population (without Mother and Arne and the dog) 998. This story was first told at his mother’s funeral at the Methodist Church in Idaho. From there the story moved to the Sacramento Storytelling Guild. It has also been told on the Public Access station as part of the Toastmaster show; that filming includes clips from the funeral in Paul, including the congregation singing "And Here We Have Idaho.”

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