We had my grandmother's funeral today. She was a cool grandmother who'd lived a long life. A couple of weeks ago she decided she was tired of being here.
So she died.
And that's ok.
My mother and uncle chose to have a graveside service. Early in the morning we gathered around the open grave, huddled together in the rain and mist, singing Amazing Grace a capella.
That's my idea of a good funeral. It was a scene to make Edward Gorey proud.
I learned a couple of things from this particular funeral experience. The first thing I've come to accept is that I have become a social hugger. I'm not proud of that fact, but that makes it no less true.
I am not a touchy-feely person. Its just not my thing.
But this is the the south, and I'm a woman and certain things are just expected. Over the years I've given up on trying to avoid the contact while avoiding hurting someone's feelings. Now I tend to initiate it to try and get it over with. Especially at funerals.
Sunday afternoon we had a big ol' hug-fest at the funeral home, while the family received visitors. I thought I was prepared. I had my fake huggy-smile all cued up and ready to go. While this was certainly a somber occasion, it was not unexpected and not at all angst-filled or wretched. Unfortunately, the first person to see me when I came in the door was Aunt Louise.
Now, y'all all have an Aunt Louise. I know you do. Aunt Louise has a penchant for TV preachers and Eva Gabor wigs. She's as tall as I am and pretty thin and spry. And she is a hugger deee-lux.
I saw her coming and was ready to go with a quick, mid-stride side hug. Its a good opening gambit and a way to breeze through the feely formalities while not lingering with someone who tends to count the hooks in your bra.
I seriously underestimated Aunt Louise. She was in full tragedy mode.
She snuck in under my outstretched arm and grabbed me by the armpits, throwing me into her chest. I had to break stride to keep from falling on top of her. She bear hugged me so hard I gasped out loud and the reflexive inhale caused me to choke on my cough drop. She interpreted my subdued gagging as proof of my emotional upheaval and she hung on for dear life.
I managed to catch my breath and gave her a friendly end-of-hug pat on the back. Then I stepped back.
She stepped with me as if we'd been doing the tango together for years. She was saying something about how tragic all of this was and how she knew I'd miss my grandmother and whatever would we do without her beatific presence in our sordid lives.
I knew it wasn't worth it to explain that although I will certainly miss the person my grandmother was, she was ready to go and the greater tragedy by far would have been for her to have been confined to a bed in a nursing home for any length of time. I just smiled and nodded.
Of course she couldn't see me smile because her chin was still digging into my shoulder and her wig was getting in my teeth.
She finally released the bear hug, but clung to my arm and directed me around the room to the rest of the mourners. Thankfully, most of them were satisfied with a handshake.
I may have to rethink my social hugger strategy. Maybe it would be easier if I contracted leprosy.
Now, that is not really the story I intended to tell you.
I really wanted to tell you about English Pea Salad.
My family and I have always been connoisseurs of funeral food. In small towns out here, the preacher is always expected to eat with the family when there is a funeral meal. And there is always a funeral meal. In the small towns I grew up in, the population was aging rapidly and it was not at all uncommon for us to have two and three funerals a week. The only way my brother and I got lunch was by partaking with the mourners, too.
There are some certainties to southern funeral food. There are only three dignified meat choices: Fried Chicken, Ham and Roast. BBQ is fine for a wedding or a revival meeting or at a booster club fundraiser before the football game, but its generally considered bad form at a funeral meal. All funerals have at least two of those meat choices and any really good send-off will have all three.
There is always one lady in the church who is unofficially designated to bring deviled eggs. She is generally the one who received one of those deviled egg platters as a wedding gift back in '52.
There will be a prodigious amount of mashed potatoes, yet this will always be the first dish to run out.
Hot rolls reign supreme. Some of the more hoity-toity churches have women who will make them from scratch. The down-home congregations use brown-n-serve.
Then there are the side dishes. There are two side dishes that are present at each and every memorial meal. English Pea Salad and Carrot and Raisin Salad. Evidently, no one but a godless communist would consent to be buried without their family partaking of these death salads. They are an ever-present harbinger of loss, feeder of grief, and satiate to those who remain.
I've been espousing the merits and short-comings of funeral food for years. My friends have smiling put up with my exhaustive diatribes on the subject. I even like to go through the line at Furr's cafeteria and tell the server I want some 'funeral salad' to see which one they pick.
At Grandmother's funeral, I was reminded that I have some really good friends. C. Wright lives way out on the other side of the state. When she heard that my grandmother died, she immediately contacted DW, another good friend who put up with me as her office jester for the four years while I was in college.
I didn't see DW until we were about to eat. She snuck up beside me with a big grin on her face.
"C.Wright told me your grandmother died. We got together and made sure you had enough salads."
Sure enough, when it was my turn to wind my way down the pot-luck table, I saw their two dishes sitting side by side - Carrot and Raisin Salad and English Pea Salad.
We got our burying done right.