Funerals, Banana Pudding, and Skynard.

July 10, 2018

Yes, we measure dead babies and take their pictures in smocked dresses and we take their little footprints and handprints.  Why?  I have never known why until today, when a friend who recently lost a baby told me "To prove that there was actually a life."  My great grandmother (Bigmama) was notorious for recording every birth and death in the family in the front of her Bible and once measured my cousin's baby in the casket and all but picked her up at the funeral home.  My Grandmother snatched the tape measure out of her hand and said "Don't you touch that baby again, Mama or I am dragging you out of here."  She needed details,  we had lost a dear, precious baby.

Bigmama was detailed, very detailed,  in her descriptions of our relatives' demise as she entered things like  "Poor ole Ethel fell dead, had her voting ballot filled out and had just ate breakfast. Straight Democrat ticket. Praise God, she had turned off the stove."  One uncle, written next to his name, just had "Hit by a truck when he saw ole so-and-so and was crossing the road and ran to get away from him."  I loved reading the notes in her Bible about relatives I had never met, because I felt connected to them through her short stories of their deaths.

I wonder what she would have written about her husband, my Pa Julian, who passed 11.5  years after she did.  I would imagine she would have written "Stingy Julian went back in the house-a-far to get out his deeds and certificates.  Suffocated to death and was burnt up. Holly foundt him in the rubble of Joy's house.  She had him a good funeral, she did."

Those of us who come from large families- meaning 50 cousins or more- seem to have a better grip on death.  Death was always as much a part of my life as living.  I learned to expect it, I learned that it wasn't the end.  I learned that the best food you will ever eat is at a funeral of someone dearly beloved and that only tacky people bring fake banana pudding and gummy dumplings to a wake.

I learned not to eat past the blue dishrag.  Bigmama and Aunt Myrtie set up their "dinner on the ground" on the concrete tables under the pavilion, and at the end of the food they prepared, they placed a blue dishrag. We never ate anything after the blue dishrag marker, cause that's where you might not know how clean the folks were who did that cooking.

I learned that legacies go on, stories are told long after your demise, and if you act right and love Jesus, there might be something more waiting on the other side.  Bigmama believed that.  She told me it was true, so I believed it too.

One year, I sang at seven funerals.  I don't think my husband has even been to seven funerals in his entire life.  When we met, he had lost one grandparent and didn't remember the funeral.  Not my family, no sir. We make the casket blanket, cook the food, do the hair and make-up of the dead, and pick out a real nice dress or suit for them to wear.  We preach our own funerals, give the eulogies, and once I rode the in the hearse of an in-law from the church to the cemetery.

My Granddaddy always said that we shouldn't be afraid of dead people, but that the living should scare the shit out of us.  Most days, the living, they do scare me like that.

The living gave my cemetery plot to Oleta, whose wreath is featured above.  She was our beloved housekeeper for over 20 years.  She is now buried next to my Granddaddy, in my spot, the spot I claimed when I was about 15 and was a dark, depressed teenager believing that my impending doom was nigh.  Now, I don't really give a damn if they put me in a mason jar, an old fruitcake tin, or ziplock bag.  I have even considered being planted as a pod to nourish a tree- the circle of life and all.

I have finally settled on letting my husband decide on where and what to do with me if I go before he does. I do hope that he will put me somewhere respectable, like Blackwater Cemetery-I mean, put me a headstone there next to my old dead relatives- my great, great, great, great Grandfather is buried there.  That's not a bad place to be buried, next to relatives born in the 1700s and their dead babies that didn't make it, their first and second wives, and brothers and sisters.  Maybe ole Griffin won't be ashamed to have me there next to him.  I would like to hear some of his stories.

If I do go before y'all and you plan on coming to my farewell party, somebody make a good chocolate cake, homemade, like the one Kelly Bell's mama makes.  Somebody make some banana pudding with the meringue, not that cool whip mess-  cool whip on that boxed banana pudding is disrespectful of the living and the dead.  Play Sweet Child of Mine, Forever Young by Dylan, Respect by Aretha, I'll Have a New Body from the old Red Church Hymnal, When Love Came to Town by U2 and B.B.King, and for the love of all holy, don't play Free Bird.  I do not need to pass on to the next life drunk on Skynard.

Love y'all,

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