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Funerals in the South | Column | The Press and Standard

by | September 16, 2017 5:00 pm

Last Updated: September 13, 2017 at 11:52 am

Funerals generally aren’t funny. Funerals in the South, however, can be entertaining.
Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays, author of “Being Dead is No Excuse” and “Some Day You’ll Thank Me for This,” made an hilarious video about Southern funerals; it’s on southernliving.com.
They approve of appropriate dress (nothing flashy) and deviled eggs; they disapprove of 500-word obits and burying Uncle Bob in a camouflage coffin, “because people will talk.”
I cry at funerals. Doesn’t matter if I haven’t seen you in 10 years or never knew your married name. I sit there and sob. Sometimes I laugh, if the minister is witty or the grandkids get up and talk about how Grammy loved snuff, liver puddin’ and Vanna White.
When my paternal grandfather died, my father, his only son, was shattered. Yet all we saw was a single tear roll down his cheek during the home-going service. My brothers still talk about that tear. Iron Eyes Cody had nothing on my dad.
Dad’s sister Drucille, however, was a wreck. The night before the funeral, she kept sneaking out of the house to walk to the church, where she’d wail and talk to Granddaddy in his coffin.
The last time she went, her two sisters and my mother chased her down the sidewalk, shouting things like, “You’re embarrassing the family! Daddy would die if he saw you like this!”
Drucille would not be denied. She raced into the sanctuary and tried to crawl into the casket with Granddaddy. My mother’s stony Scottish soul was mortified. “It was a spectacle!” she said.
Oddly enough, Mother had no qualms about ordering 10 people to line up at her mother’s casket for photographs. It was dark under the funeral home tent, and the exploding flash bulbs on her Kodak camera blinded us.
“Never know when we’ll all be together again,” she chirped. “Move, Sonny, you can’t see Mama’s profile. They did her hair good, didn’t they?”
My husband goes to many funerals, because he’s old school and believes in paying respects. “It’s the right thing to do,” he says, which is true. One thing he hasn’t done is give a eulogy. Neither have I. Episcopalians, of which I am one, don’t have eulogies at funerals, on the premise that God already knows everything about the deceased, and the survivors need no details.
I didn’t realize there was such a thing as a post-funeral reception until I moved here in 1990. In the part of North Carolina I’m from, people just drop food by the house, murmur a few words and depart. (And as comedian James Gregory says, “If somebody don’t bring a honey-baked ham, there’s gonna be another funeral.”)
Fifteen years ago, I attended a reception for a beloved Columbia resident who dropped dead in his doctor’s arms. After the church funeral, everyone repaired to Ted’s luxurious home, and I have never seen so much alcohol in my life.
They had four blenders whirling, two refrigerators full of beer, cases of wine stacked up to the clock on the kitchen wall. There were shots, shooters, martinis, margaritas, bourbon, whiskey, Scotch, rum, Bailey’s and gin. His beautiful widow wept on my shoulder. That was the day I learned that alcohol doesn’t make anything better.
I’m never sure what to say at funeral receptions. “I know you’re heartbroken, but your hair is amazing.” “Your mom was loved by all, and the potato salad tastes a little off. Just a head’s up.”
Maybe the best thing to say is the obvious: “Okay, y’all, line up for a picture!”

(Julie R. Smith, whose funeral is planned down to the toothpicks, can be reached at widdleswife@aol.com.)

 

 

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