HERE IT IS...the last part of my repeat posting of Funerals in the South. The grant is done and I delivered it to THE MAN in Columbia at 11:24 AM yesterday. Stopped back by on my way home to visit mother and Ned...they're well...have a couple of Ned stories for later as well as a recap of my very busy week...quite a lot of drama at work. More later...enjoy the last part of the series...
Funerals in the South...Part 3
Food! I hardly know where to begin. In my southern belle bubble, when people feel at loose ends as to how to comfort a bereaved friend or neighbor they resort to food. There is certainly a practical side to this as there are often many people to feed but mainly, it's really about trying to comfort someone when there are few words that can do the trick. Southern belles have the makings for at least two funeral dishes in the pantry at all times, just like they have a funeral outfit in the closet at all times.
The Church is going to be in charge of the mid-day meal on the day of the service. The Lady who rules The Church committee in charge of funeral food at is a powerful individual. For example, everybody loves (and expects) to see Miss Melda's coconut cake sitting on the sideboard at every funeral dinner but they know that Miss Melda, as the president of the Garden Club, better be sure that The Lady's prize camellia is in a prominent spot at the annual camellia show or she and her coconut cake will be replaced with Miss Sylvia (president of the Music Study Club who let The Lady sing a solo from "My Fair Lady" at the last meeting), whose red velvet cake will move up the funeral food society ladder. Of course, if Melda or Sylvia were vindictive sorts, they could take The Lady down a notch or two, but they aren't like that.
There generally needs to be about two days worth of food. Folks tiptoe quietly in the back door with their best dishes and say, "I can't stay but I wanted to bring this by and tell you how SORRY I am for your loss...now... you've got my phone number and you just call anytime day or night if (insert husband's name here) or I can do anything at all for you...Day or Night...I MEAN it. We love you and we'll be thinking about you."
Here's the thing...they DO mean it.
I can safely say that each of the following foods was in the kitchen when my daddy, aunt, grandmother, uncle, most beloved neighbor, and father-in-law passed away. Turkey, ham, fried chicken, chicken purlieu (purlieu means mixed with rice), shrimp purlieu, plain rice, sweet potatoes, dressing, macaroni pie (or mac and cheese as some folks call it), string beans, butter beans, field peas, broccoli casserole, squash casserole, asparagus casserole, potato salad, fruit salad, multiple congealed salads, deviled eggs, assorted pickles, egg salad sandwiches, pimento cheese sandwiches, pineapple and cream cheese sandwiches, pound cake, coconut cake, german chocolate cake, pecan pie, coconut pie, buttermilk pie, lemon meringue pie, banana pudding, sweet tea, lemonade, and coffee. In every instance, we had to call on the neighbors to help store the food. Heaven forbid that one of the cooks didn't tape her name on the bottom of her dish.
On to the funeral home visitation...Folks put on their Sunday clothes and head over the funeral home early because there is usually a line. The line for my daddy and my father-in-law stretched all the way around the block. We felt awful because people drove for two hours to get there and then had to wait for an hour to get to see us. The little old ladies of the town get escorted to the front and after speaking to the family in the receiving line, go and sit on the sofas and chairs reserved for little old ladies. Subsequent mourners are then obligated to pay their respects to the family AND to the little old ladies of the community, stopping by to have a look at the dearly departed in between..."Doesn't she look beautiful? Alma did a good job with her hair, didn't she? But her mouth looks funny...what did Thomas do to her mouth...go ask him what he did to her mouth...I hope her son/daughter/brother/sister/husband didn't notice. Are they seriously going to bury her with her jewelry on? I thought that Mary was getting the pearls and I'm pretty sure that Dorothy thinks she's getting the wedding set. I don't remember the cameo...Do you remember that cameo? I wonder who will get the cameo? Does she have on too much make-up? Trudy must have done the make-up...she's heavy handed...this is a funeral, not a Las Vegas floor show." Trudy's not going to do MY makeup."...and it goes on and on and on.
Preppy 101 reminded me about the politicians who show up every time the funeral home doors open to glad hand and greet (dare I say CAMPAIGN). I'm very cynical about motive if the politician isn't a true blue friend of the family, but the old folks and some of the less cynical locals just eat it up. You'd think the motorcade of the President of the United States had just pulled into town. "Linda...did you see Harold Lee McTeer over there. He's the best mayor we've ever had and just the sweetest man...I didn't even know that he knew who we were but he was one of the the first ones to call when my Woodrow passed last year. Harold Lee apparently thought the WORLD of Woodrow, rest his soul."
I think I've covered all the basics except for the choosing of the tombstone...
If you've been reading my blog for awhile you've figured out that my mother is a tad eccentric. Choosing the perfect tombstone for my daddy became an obsession, and she made me drive her around every cemetery in town so that she could analyze the competition. Daddy's marker couldn't be too big (the Browder stone was "so showy...they always did think they were better than everybody else.") and it couldn't be too small ("what were the Cobb children thinking...their mother deserved better than that and you know that oldest boy has plenty of money, despite the manner in which he might have earned it."). I would drive and she'd holler "STOP" then jump out and run with her notepad and tape measure over to whichever monument had caught her eye.
More than 25 years later, she can still show you her notes and drawings. It had to be marble...definitely marble. She made the monument guy (who was also the funeral director) call her every time a piece of marble came in over a period of several weeks until she found just the right one. You cannot rush these things. The font had to be classic and there could be no curlicues or angels or embellishment of any kind...just the family name "MASON" on both sides. A simple foot stone gave the details of who, when, and where. When she goes on to her great reward her foot stone will be added, and my brother Ned will be buried there with them also. Of course, they purchased four plots just in case I never found myself a husband...
I guess I've about covered it but I'll be happy to entertain questions. If I don't know the answer I'll just make one up. I hope you enjoyed the Funerals in the South series.