Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Deviled Eggs and Fried Chicken: A Celebration of Life

Deviled Eggs and Fried Chicken: A Celebration of Life

For Bernice: 1917- 2007, with love

  It was just recently that I bought a wonderfully humorous book describing a proper Southerner’s final farewell “Being Dead is No Excuse- The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral” written by Metcalfe and Hays. Reading it, I enjoyed comforting laughs and thoughts of “yep..that’s right” at so many of the descriptions of our Southern Protestant rituals that accompany the death and burial of a loved one. And as fate would have it, my last surviving grandparent, my mother’s mother, passed away last week. “Grandmother Hester”, “Great Gran” or “Bernice” to anyone other than the children, lived to an amazing 90 years of age; however, Alzheimers had really taken her from us a time ago so we acknowledged her passing with both sorrow and relief. Hearing the news she was gone, the extended family gathered from near and far to lay her to rest in our small town cemetery right next to Granddaddy Hester. 

  Although not as common these days, both of my parent’s parents purchased their final resting places well in advance. Of course, though the men certainly play a role during any funeral, I now realize that the “appropriate” planning for and carrying out of Southern funerals are of real importance to and are under strict control by the Southern women. I can’t remember one request from my Granddaddy before he died, but I learned from my Grandmothers over the years that they felt strongly that we understand and comply with certain expectations they had for their own funerals. For instance, my father’s mother, who died in 1999, made it clear to everyone in the family that under no circumstance should her casket be open during the visitation and funeral. I can hear her saying now how she marveled at people standing at the open casket of a loved one and remarking “doesn’t she look good?” After which Grandma would exclaim, “Good!? How can she look good? She’s dead!” Can’t argue with that. Grandmother Hester started making plans for her funeral so far in advance that she ended up wearing the nightgown and robe she bought to be buried in on her honeymoon with her second husband instead. Now she reasoned that since you appeared to be asleep when lying in a casket that you ought to be wearing appropriate clothing. I’ve never seen it before, but it did make sense when she put it like that. So, she was buried in a beautiful gown and robe. 

  While you never look forward to any funeral, you can’t help but immediately think of all the delicious food that will be brought to the house within hours of a death. If you have any friends at all in the South, you won’t need to cook for days following a family member’s passing. As soon as word of the loss gets out, you can expect a plate of deviled eggs to be at your door at any moment. Of course, you then add to that fried chicken, ham, beans, turnip greens, cornbread, famous Southern casseroles, gallons of sweet tea and desserts galore. And let me assure you, it is some good eatin. 

  After Grandmother’s service, we all gathered back at the house for lunch…which was prepared, served and cleaned up after by my Mom’s women friends. Something my Grandmothers had both done so many times during their lives for others. Something my Mom and her sister do for their friends. Something I will begin to do. The women moved about the kitchen and dining rooms as if working on auto-pilot to get our large group of family fed and comforted. I sat there watching that wonderful demonstration of love and felt so very proud to know that I am a part of such a special group of people. But, of course, Grandmother would have expected no less and I know she would have been pleased with the whole production. I’m positive she has now gone on in peace. And I must say that for being 90 and dead…she looked really good. I love you Grandmother. 

Written by: Charlotte Clarke
Dr. Charlotte H. Clarke grew up in Buena Vista, Georgia on family- owned land known lovingly as Oochee Bottom. After high school, she studied Biology at Georgia Southern University and completed her education with a Ph.D. in Cellular Biology and Anatomy from the Medical College of Georgia. She currently resides in Houston, Texas and works in the area of ovarian cancer research at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She is the mother of two boys who are being raised enjoying the bounty of life that comes with their Southern heritage.