Sunday, July 22, 2012

Funerals Make Me Hungry

Besides Sunday dinner on the ground at a country church and Christmas at my mother’s house, the best food I’ve ever eaten was after family funerals.

I don’t mean any disrespect, but just the thought of a funeral makes me hungry.

Since I’m a Baptist, most funerals I’ve attended were Baptist.  So I can only speak from a Baptist perspective. 

No higher honor can be given the deceased and their kin than to be the first person to arrive at the family home with a covered dish.  There are women in my hometown who begin circling your driveway when they first hear you’re sick.

When word of one’s death passes like wildfire throughout the community, food begins arriving in large quantities and in continuous streams right up until, and even after, the funeral. 

This is a Southern custom I’ve grown to appreciate for more reasons than one.
The house fills up with friends and even strangers who begin laying out food, pouring iced tea and coffee, washing dishes, and generally making life easier for the family. 

They bring casseroles, fresh garden vegetables, fried chicken, barbecue, banana pudding, pecan and chocolate pies, homemade biscuits and cornbread, pickles, relish. . .why it looks like the county fair.

Most of the eating before the funeral is done by visitors.  After they’ve hugged the family members and given their condolences, there isn’t much to do with their hands.  A buffet laid out by the best cooks in the county gives them something to do, and something to talk about.  So visitors to the family home don’t have to be asked twice if they want something to eat.  You bet they do!

No blue ribbons are awarded to the best cooks, but believe me, they’re being judged.  The winner is determined by which dish is emptied first.  So there is some heavy coaxing going on. 

“Hon, why don’t you get yourself some more of those fresh butter beans?  What you have on your plate wouldn’t fill a hollow tooth.  And don’t forget to get you some of that banana pudding, darlin.  Eunice made that, you know.  Nobody can touch her banana pudding.  Why it’ll make your tongue beat your brains out.” 

Family members and the deceased’s closest friends are too distraught to eat much before the funeral.  Besides they are busy greeting those who’ve come to pay their respects.  The house is full of people for a day or two preceding the funeral.  Every visitor shakes every hand and talks a good bit too.

But after the funeral and burial services, all the neighbors instinctively know when to go home and leave the family alone.

By this time, the family’s feet and hands hurt from standing and greeting hundreds of people.  They also are absolutely starving.

Never has a table of food looked so good.  Nobody says anything.  They just grab a plate and elbow their way to the pulley bone.  There isn’t a lot of talking during the first two or three circles around the kitchen.  Just tinkling silverware and smacking lips.

You may be thinking that good Christian people should remember that gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Not for Baptists.  That’s Catholic!

You see, to Baptists eating is the ONLY sensual pleasure that isn’t classified as a sin.  Our conscience is clear.  So we just quietly eat ourselves into a stupor.

Finally, somebody breaks the silence and the family begins telling stories about the deceased.  Stories that are funny, or sad, or inspirational.

My favorite story at Daddy’s funeral was told by my sister.

“Daddy was talking about you, Harvey, just the other day,” she said.

He said, “You know, Faye, Harvey is real successful, and I’m proud of him.  But, you know, I’ve never really understood what he does for a living.  Thomas drives trucks, you and Charles run a hardware store, and I understand that.  But just what does he do anyway?”

There was a long silence, she said. 

Then Daddy, a yellow-dog Democrat who died before he’d even heard of Bill Clinton or Barrack Obama, finally spoke incredulously.

“You know, I think Harvey’s turned Republican.”

Everybody had a laugh.  And a big slice of somebody’s homemade pie.

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