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Twin brothers, who are morticians, look back on their lives of caring for the dead

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. And today we hear from Melvin and Marvin Morgan.

MARVIN MORGAN: Mama called Daddy and told him to find two names because he had two twin sons. On his way to the hospital, he saw Marvin and Melvin Funeral Home. He said, I got the two names.

MELVIN MORGAN: I remember that.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Melvin and Marvin did end up becoming morticians themselves - not in a funeral home, but in morgues in New York City. At StoryCorps, they talked about the calling they share, practicing that calling amid the deaths of the pandemic years and a childhood discovery that led them to their work.

MARVIN MORGAN: So remember, we were down south and we went to go look for great-grandmom's grave?

MELVIN MORGAN: We were walking past the cemetery, and our cousin...

MARVIN MORGAN: He pointed out, and said, she's over there somewhere.

MELVIN MORGAN: Right, she over there somewhere. Down south, the African American's cemeteries separate from the Caucasian cemeteries. They were buried in unmarked graves - no headstone, no nothing.

MARVIN MORGAN: At that time we were 9. I was really disturbed by that. And I said that one day that we're going to see that people be buried right.

So your first day of the mortuary, what'd you do?

MELVIN MORGAN: It was a heck of a experience to see my comrades cutting up a body with ease and not being frightened, which I was in the beginning. But I knew I was moving into the right field because I knew that I had an important job to do.

MARVIN MORGAN: What was the hardest thing you ever seen?

MELVIN MORGAN: We was at the epicenter of this pandemic. You know, bodies coming from the elevator all the way down the corridor through the hallway to the morgue, lined up. It was hard, especially with the ones that, you know, you knew. And I had friends that died - coworkers, the people that work in the hospital. And they all of them went to the freezer. And I would go and play music for them and talk to them. Don't think I'm crazy, now.

MARVIN MORGAN: Some of these cases, you know, you take it home and it just sits with you. I would talk to you so I can get over it.

MELVIN MORGAN: And vice versa.

MARVIN MORGAN: Right.

MELVIN MORGAN: The same that you do with me. And I'm not afraid of death, but to be honest with you, if something happened to my twin brother, even though I do this job, I don't know if I'd be able to take it. That's why I want to go out first.

MARVIN MORGAN: (Laughter) You know, this young lady asked me the other day - she asked me about death. And she said, well, am I going to heaven? I said, I don't know.

MELVIN MORGAN: No one can tell you where you came from, no one can tell you why you're here and no one sure can't tell you where you're going.

MARVIN MORGAN: Yeah.

MELVIN MORGAN: And I just hope I go out the right way.

INSKEEP: Melvin and Marvin Morgan for StoryCorps in New York. Melvin is retiring this week from Elmhurst Hospital in Queens - one more news event to remember this week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Vassili