Good morning, ya'll. Come on in and sit a spell on the "Net" front porch. It sure is good to see you and I have just made a pitcher of iced tea . Been needing someone to talk to for my husband is the "silent" type and doesn't say a whole lot. I have the cat and dog and even though they can be quite vocal, it's a little hard to decipher their language. Our cat is easier than the dog for he has quite a vocabulary of meows, purls and yowls and we have become quite adept at understanding what he is telling us. He has us trained well.
I have already read the obituaries this morning in the local paper to see if there is anyone I know. Thank goodness they were all strangers to me for I don't have a thing cooked to take to anyone today. Also I won't have to dress up tonight to go to the visitation. Funerals in the South are an "occasion" and there are many traditions which must observed by those raised by good, Southern mamas. In fact, my husband had an aunt who lived in Columbus, MS who along with a friend called the funeral home each morning to see who had died. I asked him if it was concern and he said they were just nosy. In fact, they were making sure they would observe the proper death rituals so they wouldn't be talked about.
First, you have to take food or something food related to the family's house. By food related it is now acceptable to carry paper products and a friend of mine always carries trash bags. At first I thought that was a little odd, but after experiencing a family member passing on, I realized just how much trash there was to toss. Those bags came in right handy.
Now years ago, you would have never put out paper plates and cups for you always got out your best china for the many friends and relatives to enjoy the bounty the community brought to the house. Of course keeping them washed up could be quite a chore, but there was always someone willing to wash and dry dishes or you had the "help" to do it. You also had to have the best tablecloth and napkins on the table for your long-lost kin folks and friends you haven't seen in a while. There is nothing like a funeral to bring out all those needing free food and some to take home. These are the "mourners" even if they didn't like the deceased or hadn't visited in years.
There were a couple of "little old ladies" in my home town who always showed up first at any home of the dead with an itty bitty bowl of potato salad or about 6 deviled eggs, volunteer to cry and comfort the bereaved and then take home all food that wasn't eaten. I'm pretty sure they scoured the obituaries every day and had a snitch at the funeral home so they would know who had died. Bless their hearts, they were the professional mourners which every funeral needs.
Now the food had certain criteria. First it had to be homemade by your own two hands or the two hands of the family cook. Many times, you hoped it was the family cook's recipe for some of them cannot boil water without burning it. Second, you had to bring it in the best bowl, plate or casserole and be sure you put your name on the bottom on a piece of masking tape. Not sure what they did before masking tape except I have seen mama tape a piece of paper on with scotch tape and pray they didn't loose the name. Third, it had to be delivered before the first meal after the person had died. You had to deliver it with proper seriousness and respect for the dead and the dear family. Fourth, you didn't stay to eat for you didn't want to "intrude" unless you were a close friend or professional mourner. Fifth, you stayed only a little while for you didn't want to "impose."
These were rules carved in Southern pine and scented with magnolia blossoms. Death was serious business and in a small, Southern town most all deaths touched most of the community. You knew you were loved or important if you had more food in the house than you knew what to do with it. You fed the family, the friends, the in laws, the outlaws, the "pretend" friends and sent food home with everyone who would take it. If the food was sparse, you were not very important, you didn't have many friends, or you had moved in and didn't have many friends. There is a social order in the South and it must be observed at all times, so my mama said.
This was also a time when you could display your culinary prowess or show off your best dishes. There would always be potato salad, fried chicken, baked hams with pineapple and cherries on top, pound cake, stacked cakes with homemade caramel icing, chocolate cake with homemade chocolate icing, homemade rolls, biscuits, cornbread, baked chicken and dressing, chicken pies, abundant vegetables like butter beans, peas, corn and squash and the special pickles, preserves, jellies and jams. You could eat until you could eat no more, go back later and eat again. Talk about good, it was better than that, it was ambrosia from the hands of good, Southern cooks. They are the best!
Now after the funeral came the taking of the dishes. Each dish or dishes had to be returned to the family and they had to be washed and shined. Heaven help you if you didn't return it within a week or you took it to the wrong family. Talk about embarrassment, this was terrible for it meant someone didn't write down the write name by the right dish in the notebook. This would be a shame and it would take major apologizing to cover it up. Of course, you could always blame it on a distant cousin who came in from another town or a friend who everyone knew wasn't the sharpest tack in the pack. You really tried not to make this mistake.
Then came the thank you notes. These are most important to send for every dish, every call, every thought, every prayer and every deed anyone even thought about doing. They also have to be hand written and addressed. Computer generated labels would be very "tacky" and tacky are for those friends raised in the Nawth or those who weren't raised by a good, Southern mama and don't know any better. These had to be written and mailed withing a 5 day period or people would talk about your bad manners and that would be terrible. Remember whatever you do or don't do reflects on your mama.
Now what about the family who has lost the loved one? Well they just have to get over it and observe the rituals or either totally collapse, have the vapors and be drugged up by the local doctor. If you are indisposed as we would say, you could get by with a little, but not much. Some, strong family member steps in and observes the rituals for you. Bless your heart if you don't have anyone.
Well now that I have educated some of you about death in the South, I hope you will observe these rules at the next opportunity. Remember, how you act reflects on your mama.
The Georgia Peach