Earlier last year, a gentleman who lived down the street from us passed away rather unexpectedly. I am ashamed to admit that I didn't know the fella or his family, but our lives these days are consumed with work, school and extracurricular activities. There really isn't time for the simple things in life that we used to take for granted--such as actually knowing the people that you live around or seeing what your children look like in the daylight.
So, you may ask, how did I even know that the fella went on to the Great Beyond? Well, there were about twenty cars parked up and down my street and every single person that got out of a vehicle was carrying a covered casserole dish. Here in the South, such a sight can only mean one thing: Somebody is dead and there is a funeral on the horizon.
Southerners seem to have a rather macabre love affair going on with funerals. God knows I hate the damned things, so I'm at a total loss for an explanation,,,but I have developed a theory or two.
Over the years, I've had the sad occasion to deal with the before, during and after of several funerals. I'm not the most extroverted of individuals, so I spend a lot of the time sitting in a chair and watching from the sidelines. Many times, I feel like an unpaid Marlin Perkins sitting in the brush, quietly observing the habits of an African lion pride and getting ready to send the hapless Jim out to pull the big one's tail.
One fact is irrefutable: Southerners adore gossip and hovering around at funerals and wakes is the best way to be on the front lines for the breaking news. Before I became an attorney, I realized that all families have the capacity for volatile reaction, but after I became an attorney--sweet baby Jesus. Having probated wills and represented folks in estate litigation, I can now categorically state that even the Waltons will turn into the Borgias when it comes down to the ownership of Grandma's 1978 Oldsmobile and custody of Twinkles the cat.
In addition to the potential for a family knife fight, there is also the scandalously fantastic possibility that the deceased bought the farm while in a compromising situation. Impeccable breeding prevents me from going into detail, but I'm sure your creative minds can think of an example or thirty.
A person certainly shouldn't attend such a potentially amazing spectacle empty handed--that would be tacky. So, for nothing more than the admission price of two dozen deviled eggs or a spiffy seven layer salad., a person could gain the equivalent of front and center seats at Madison Square Garden.
Of course, a funeral is also ripe fodder for one upmanship, particularly when the individual that bought the farm is from a prominent family. If Florence Merriweather is seen comforting the bereaved wife of the deceased mayor--well then Florence has taken at least two steps up the social ladder. Of course "conspicuous comfort" can swing wildly in either direction: If Florence is comforting the Mayor on the recent loss of his wife, then the hussy isn't even letting the sainted woman get into the ground before bagging and tagging her prey. (Gasp) The ho!
You can also bet your money on the fact that, if Florence brought a Tupperware plate of ham biscuits for the funeral grazing trough, Agnes Sidwell brought her best silver plate filled beef tenderloin and homemade French bread. Dorothy took tuna noodle casserole? Ha! Willhelmina took crab puffs! Helen Williams stayed behind to clean up the kitchen? Pish-posh, Charlotte Coggins cleaned all of the bathrooms and re-caulked the tubs! The list goes on.
Now for the politically correct disclaimer stating that--of course--not every mourner at a funeral is a gossip hungry magpie with an insatiable lust for keeping up with the Joneses. I've written before about my desperate--and admittedly somewhat sick--need to look for humor in every situation as a tool to help myself...get on with it, I suppose. Trust me when I tell you that no occasion or circumstance is too sacred.
Case in point: About 16 years ago, one of my grandmothers passed away. We were exhausted from camping out at the hospital during the final days and I'm pretty useless (or even more useless, if you will) when I am super tired. Someone who shall remain nameless (because it was a total dumbass suggestion) informed me that it was tacky to cry at a funeral and I was completely stressed out as a result. God forbid that I be tacky.
At the end of the church service, the family piled into the limo for the ride down to the cemetary. Our driver was a really lovely gentleman who appeared to be about 136 years old and boy did he drive like it. He chatted merrily to us as he swerved to and fro (once into oncoming traffic) and blistered the highway with speeds topping as much as 14 miles per hour. All of us in the back seat were gripping each other in terror because we certainly missed Grandma, but we weren't in quite that much of a hurry to be reunited with her.
We all deflated in relief when we arrived in one piece at the cemetary. The driver pulled to a stop and got out of the car to open our door, but--bless him--he left the car running and evidently failed to put it in park before getting out. Accordingly we went rolling down the hill until someone more fleet of foot managed to hop into the driver's seat, hit the brakes and put the damned car in a gear appropriate to safe exit of the vehicle: PARK.
That did it. Me and my brother (who has an identical sick sense of humor) busted out in uncontrollable, hysterical laughter. We were harshly admonished about our giggles by the same person who told us that crying would be tacky, but we were beyond all help at that point. I was in literal pain from holding the laughter in for the rest of the service, but I damned sure didn't cry.
I like to think that Grandma had a little Heavenly hand in helping us see things through to the end. We Southerners are helpful like that.