Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Funeral, Part 4 - Lunch

After the internment at the cemetery (scroll on down)we went back to the church where the Ladies Aid Society of Millpond Methodist had arranged for us the most lovely, perfect, post-funeral luncheon. I was almost moved to tears at the sight of all the yellow table cloths, wildflower bouquets on every table and the L-shaped buffet of every single traditional Southern dish you have ever heard of. They were all there and for a moment I felt ashamed of how enthusiastic I was about seeing them all there. When people die I often feel guilty eating. Of course I still eat anyway, but I feel awful about it as if I'm supposed to show my grief by going on a hunger strike and doing nothing but lying in bed moaning in sorrow. My grief, I have found, has not been exactly like that. At least not yet. I think if my husband died it might be, but let's hope that doesn't happen until we have been married for 58 years like Mommom and Pop.

In the South funerals are all about food. One is expected to eat at funerals and to eat a lot. Instead of my strange belief that one should show grief by not eating (I think in a past life I was a Bengali widow), in the South one's love of the deceased can be measured in the amount one consumes at the funeral. I can definitely say that Pop was loved a lot.

Food and funerals go hand in hand. Whenever someone dies I immediately start thinking of what to cook. I'm not alone in this, at least not in Millpond and every other southern town. When Pop died the entire female population of Millpond, along with some of my male cousins who only BBQ, turned on the stove. For many it was only to boil the water for the Jell-O salad, but still, the stove was used. Judging from the amount of covered dishes at the funeral luncheon the shelves at the Piggly Wiggly had to have been bare.

All my life I thought this was how it was done everywhere in the world. When someone dies you bring food to their family and you want to try to bring more and better food than anyone else. It's a little competitive. I once brought an entire pot of soup, two quiches, chicken salad and a coconut cake to a family in Atlanta. Apparently though, this doesn't happen everywhere.

A dear friend of mine lost her mother recently. Her family lives in Chicago so I imagined a huge, Eastern European style spread at their funeral. As bad taste as it was I had to ask about her funeral food since it was the same week as Pops and she seemed to be ok with my asking. She said she had to have it catered. I gasped in horror. A CATERED FUNERAL???? My lands. My poor friend who just lost her dear mother had to go to all the stress to have an event catered! This would have been an utter travesty in the south. No one would let something like that happen and had any southerners been there they would have been deeply offended that no one brought anything to the mourning family. How could people be so heartless and selfish to not bring food to these people, a southerner would have said. I decided to be offended for my friend's family.

"Well, someone did bring a bag of Tostitos and a jar of queso dip," my friend said.

Good God.

We had so much food at Pop's funeral that there would have been plenty for my friend's mother's funeral. It makes me sad to think of catered deli trays and I wish I really could have shared. We did after all, have 29 hams.

Do you all remember the episode of Good Times where the dad died and people brought over so many hams they didn't know what to do with them all? This was also the episode where Florida broke the punch bowl and said "DAMN DAMN DAMN!!!" and also the best Good Times episode ever. Well, we had so many hams that it was just like on the show. We were practically giving the hams away as door prizes.

In addition to 29 hams we also had more fried chicken than I have ever seen in one place. I'm not kidding. I really have never seen this much fried chicken. We also had at least 15 different varieties of Jell-o salad, nine thousand casseroles and just as many different kinds of desserts. There were of course collard greens, three bean salads, several macaroni and potato salad variations, green beans and all kinds of wonderful creations made from vegetables picked out of people's gardens.

When I saw all this food I just said "Oh to hell with it, I'm eating." So I poured myself a big old glass of sweet tea and headed for the buffet line.

Bella was not amused. Poor Bella. She had been on the Atkins Diet for over a month in an emergency attempt to lose weight before a reunion with the long lost love of her life later this summer. After their horrible breakup and after graduating from college and getting an office job she became less active than she had been and gained a couple extra pounds. She may or may not have eaten like an asshole a few times too many, and she just got older and slowed down. Happens to the best of us. Out of nowhere Bella's ex, the love of her life, called and said he couldn't stop thinking about her and wanted to see her. I understand where he's coming from. I wish you all could know Bella. She is hilarious, charming, has a great sense of style and is a damn lot of fun. I can completely understand someone being so smitten with her that he still thinks about her four years after their tragic breakup which was all his fault by the way. Bella said they could meet at the end of the summer and she knew she had to make a choice. The love of her life or the other love of her life - fettucino alfredo. She and the fettucini parted ways. It was a bad breakup, but she managed to leave Alfredo for grilled chicken salad and hard boiled eggs. Things were going well.

When I saw Bella she looked fantastic and had already dropped two sizes. She said she hadn't had any cravings and was doing fine and had broken her deadly carb addiction, the likes of which I had never encountered. I almost thought she'd have the DTs if she gave up tortellini. I mean, this girl loved pasta. But she was fine. Until the funeral luncheon.

Bella was livid because there was not a single thing there she could eat. Everything was breaded and full of fat and carbs. Plus Myrtle Fitch had made her famous macaroni and cheese and everyone was shuddering with delight over it and Bella knew how good it was. It was like taking an alcoholic into a bar, bless her heart. I felt terrible.

There wasn't all that much I could eat either. This was at the beginning of my gluten-free experiment and I am ashamed to confess that when confronted with fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and a homemade Coca-Cola cake (the kind without marshmallows which is the best kind) I decided I didn't care if I had stomach problems. That's a terrible way to think and I'm a rotten role model, so please don't be like me.

So poor Bella was ready to hurt someone and she sat and sulked until Memere Marie got a hold of her. I found this kind of amusing in a sick, sadistic way. Memere Marie came to Pop's funeral to show her support. Remember, she is my mother's mother who also lives in Millpond. She has known Mommom Jewel and Pop Byron since they were all teenagers, and Memere's husband Ray (he eats cat food) actually played on the Millpond High School Football team with Pop.

Now until this point I have refrained from referring to any of the funeral food as "Nasty-Assed" and this is because I am being incredibly polite and gracious. Normally I would have been all over those casseroles and Jell-o molds, but I told myself that this food was prepared with so much love and selflessness that if I made fun of a bite of it that I would burn in Hell until I was the exact size and texture of a pork rind. It was difficult, let me tell you. I saw things done with cream of mushroom soup that should be crimes against humanity.

Memere Marie though, she lives for Nasty-Assed Recipes. I feel the need to capitalize that for some reason. Memere adores all sorts of ritz cracker topped, velveeta smothered, Jell-o jiggly nasty-assery so she was in her element at that luncheon. But she had to compare all of it to her own versions, especially the green bean casserole and poor Bella who made the mistake of asking her what was in a certain dish got treated to a long lecture about how Memere makes it compared to how this version was made and how maybe the next time she makes it she might add some celery too and how her friend Connie used to make a little bit different but she didn't like it as much because Connie wasn't a good cook and this version was decent, but not like hers, which was far better except for the lack of celery. Bella, in her hypoglycemic, carb-craving misery looked like she was going to grow snakes out of head having to listen to this. Did I mention that the dish in question was an orange Jell-o concoction with pineapple and Cool-Whip? So naturally one can see how celery would obviously improve that.

Bella was ready to leave fairly quickly, which was fine with me, but first I needed to mingle a little to see all the millions of cousins I hadn't seen since I was little.

Someone asked me in the comments if I ended up talking to my biological father. The answer is that I did not. I did, however, meet two of his daughters, my half sisters. I wish I could report more sordidly about them, but I only saw them for a couple of minutes. The oldest one, who is 24 I think, seems like a bit of a mess. She had a friend drive her and then she left before the luncheon. I've talked to her on the phone before and she's, well, let's just say she claims to be living quite the bohemian lifestyle and has rejected the whole religious cult thing. She plays violin in a rock band. I thought she was very pretty; her hair especially fascinated me. It was strawberry blond and curled like she was from Texas. I always wanted big Texas beauty pageant hair so I liked it. She was only around for a few minutes. The second sister who is around 20-22 was much plainer. She was tall and very skinny and looked exactly like her mother looked when she and Ronald first got married. The resemblance was absolutely uncanny, but she was very friendly and introduced herself to me and she was dressed normal and seemed cheerful. I guess I had expected them to be wearing calico prairie dresses with pouffed sleeves. I think both of them grew up, moved out and gave up the Baptist cult lifestyle and this is a profound relief to me. I hope these poor girls have a chance at a normal life.

The whole time people kept coming up to me and asking me about my mother. I know what they were really asking was if she still sold drugs and if she was in prison or running a cat house and if I was in on it too. I could tell by their tone. Then, inevitably they would say I looked so much like my mother. This is not true. Certain features yes, but when you compare a picture of me and a picture of my mother at the same age there are clearly distinct differences, so it annoys the crap out of me to hear this over and over. Frankly I look a lot more like Memere Marie at this age than I do my mother, but no one listens to me. I just want to look like myself.

Everyone asked me about my husband too. They were wondering if he was a drug dealer too and what kind of drugs he sells. Remember, everyone in Millpond thinks Florida is nothing but drugs and immigrants and immigrants on drugs, so if I live in Florida then I must be a drug dealer too and so must my husband, who is probably an immigrant. It's like one big scene out of Scarface down here. Just last week I made a ruckus at The Forge and I have to go soon because the tigers chained up out in the yard need me to toss them a raw ribeye. After that I'm going to shine my automatic weapons collection before I go meet some Colombians with my latest shipment.

Before we left Bella and I spotted one of our cousins who was smokin' hot. This is really gross of us we know, but we would like to plea redneck on this one and that means you can express opinions on the hotness of your own cousins. We had never seen this hot cousin before and he was a little older, mid-40s maybe and dressed in full military garb which added to the hotness naturally. His tag read "Holland" so we knew he was related to us and he looked exactly like Pop, causing us to wonder if he was Pop's secret love child perhaps.

Sergeant Smokin' knew who I was.

"Do you remember me?" he asked in a most effeminate voice.

"I'm so sorry, I don't," I answered.

He said he was my cousin Louis Lafayette Holland and he was obviously, unquestionably homosexual.

"How is your Aunt Kiki?" he asked.

Well if there was any doubt as to his homosexuality before there was none now. Aunt Kiki was the official hag of Millpond with my mom being the vice-hag. I had no idea I had a cousin on the Holland side who was friends with Aunt Kiki.

"I used to run around with Kiki and your mom," he said.

I had no idea. I am so ashamed that I said my own cousin who is clearly gay was hot. He is though. My hairdresser would kill to get his hands on this man in uniform.

Later Bella asked her mom about him.

"Is Louis Lafayette gay?" she asked.

"No, he's just soft-spoken," my aunt said.


"He has a wife and children," she added.

Oh my. I have a feeling there is some pretty extensive not asking and not telling going on. I keep forgetting to call Aunt Kiki to ask her about him. He told me to tell her hello.

I also discovered that I have a bunch of punk rockabilly cousins. Woo-Hoo! That was pretty cool. My cousin Peanut and his sister Stella used to play with me in the pool all summer and we lost touch. I nearly didn't recognize them when they came in. Peanut has a jet-black mohawk and had a pack of Pall-Malls rolled up in his tee shirt sleeve. He was wearing rolled up jeans, boots and had a chain wallet. Peanut is a tattoo artist and Stella who had purple spikey hair and wears dresses from the 40s has a beauty parlor next door. Both of them are covered in tattoos and piercing. I was so proud my cousins grew up this way. This is a million times better than the life of single wides and stock car races I had imagined for them. I should have known though because we have a pretty strong creative gene running through the family.

By the time I had talked to everyone at the luncheon actual snakes were hissing out of Bella's head and she was ready to get back to her parents house so she could tear up a summer sausage and some colby-jack. In the car on the way I got a call from my sister back in Florida.

"Someone cleaned out my bank accounts," she said.


Missicat said...

WOW - what a day you had! And To Be Continued....
Ah, the jello mold. There are probably cave drawings of funerals depicting prehistoric jello molds.
Can't wait for the rest of the story...

Anonymous said...

That was a shocking ending. Can't wait to hear what happened to your sister.
I have a friend who, when we first met, I instantly thought was gay. Apparently I was wrong, because not too long later he was engaged to an attractive woman. The wedding was a couple months ago. He still gives off the gay vibe, but they seem very happy together.

NeekoalinAZ said...

Wha WHAT! Thats your ending??? You vile creature you!

You better get those finger flying lady! I have surgery in the morning and I'm going to miss it!

Wide Lawns said...

Don't worry. Have your surgery and then when you come back you'll have lots to read. Are you getting boobs?

Just kidding. Hope all goes well and you have a swift, easy recovery.

Anonymous said...

1) That was a good episode of Good Times---GT was always good when Florida would get pissed off and scare the hell out of everyone.

2) I must defend my relatives a little bit: cousins made baked goods for the wake and my aunt brought fancy chocolates. The taco dip did make me blink a few times.

On the flipside: the restaurant luncheon after the funeral was at 11 am and the bar bill was over $700. Damn that was a lot of booze for early in the day---at least 2 drinks per adult.

3) My mother would have loved if you had turned up with a bunch of hams. She would have thought that was hilarious because I dislike ham and she took every opportunity to tell me about "big-ass hams" (a phrase she borrowed from David Letterman, which is really strange because I don't recall my mother ever watching David Letterman) just to drive me crazy. She could be a strange woman sometimes. I miss her.

Mattie said...

Definitely enthralled.

What an ending! Or is it?

Wide Lawns said...

Aww I wish I could have turned up with 29 big assed hams for your mom. I miss her too although I didnt know her. I know she was wonderful to have made you. And ok I forgive everyone. Baked goods are acceptable. Taco dip I'm not so sure, but at least it was an attempt at something.

Arabella said...

Oh this is so good I had to de-lurk.

Anonymous said...

So here I am, reading through anxiously to see if you had Coca-cola cake and YOU DID. But marshmallows? I am saddened, to say the least.

MJH said...

OK, I know you wrote you will never disclose Millpond's location, but I've got to give a guess. No need to tell if I'm wrong or right. Reading about the town had me thinking, but reading about the funeral food confirmed it for me. Millpond sounds just like home to me, I live in NC. I guess it could be anywhere in the southeast, but that food is NC funeral fare.

drawer queen said...

I too have a gay cousin who doesn't think he is gay. When he divorced his first wife, I smiled and nodded knowingly at the news and announced to my mother that he was extremely, obviously, flamingly gay (she lacks gaydar), and then he got married again! Now my credentials are in doubt... damn. He is gay, I know it.

the Bag Lady said...

Way out here in the country, we have a community hall. All the "old-timers" funerals are held there. The community club takes care of the food.
Traditionally, up here in Alberta, when someone dies, people bring food to the home of the bereaved. When my mother died, we had enough "Russian Chicken" to feed an entire city block. Twice. Along with innumerable casseroles. We didn't have to cook for 3 months.

What is Coca Cola Cake?

bluelikethesky said...

Way to end a post!

Brought back memories of my grandfather's funeral in deep east Texas, back in the 60s. I wasn't much taller than the table, and the Corningware casseroles went on forever.

I'm glad to see that old customs aren't entirely gone. My father-law-died this winter, and we had a hard time turning out a spread. I kid you not: we had a drive-by ham. Really.

And, yes, human sperm can penetrate hamster eggs. Honestly, I think I stuffed at least that much hummus in my cheeks this very evening. Maybe there's something lurking in my DNA.

Hilary said...

You sure do weave a fine tale. There isn't another blog that I'd click on to see a super-lengthy post like yours often are, and do anything more than skim it. Yours, I savour. Looking forward to hearing about your sister's woes.

Anonymous said...

Nobody tells a story the way YOU tell a story.

I can't wait for the next installment, although I must say, I'm sorry that your sister had to endure such a disaster as that.

bottonz said...

hahah I have to laugh at all the jello salads, afrikaans people here in South Africa Also LOVE their jello salads, One of my mom's favourite beetroot with berry jello and cucumber YUM YUM

Can;t wait for the rest of the story !!!!

Breny said...

There's nothing like a southern funeral. Have you ever read Jill Conner Brown's Sweet Potato Queens books? She has whole sections devoted to funeral food.

I'm glad you met some cool punk cousins. The lucky ones manage to get the hell out of the small towns. I'm glad your bio-father's daughters were nice as well.

Have you noticed that the people that stay in the small towns that are the same age as you always look OLD? Seriously. I think living in little backwards places makes you age more quickly.

Although I'm not happy about your sister's misfortune, I look forward to reading about it. Soon please!!!

Robin in Ohio said...

Ah, yes, food after a funeral. The ladies of the Methodist church made a lovely luncheon following my mother's funeral. Our family really appreciated it. (And, nary a Jello mold to be seen, thank the Lord!)

Also, friends of my parents insisted on bringing food to my father. Much of it was very good, but, oh my goodness...we were all sick to death of "ham loaf" (a Central Ohio delicacy). To this day (five years later), my children refuse to eat ham loaf! They had WAY too much of it in the days following my mom's death.

My condolences on your grandfather's passing. I'm glad you had good times with him shortly before he passed. Good memories make things a little easier. Take care.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your sister and can appreciate you don't want to tell the story.

I'd like a plate of the fried chicken and mac&cheese please. Then I'd like a "lettuce" salad..then I'd like the pretzle/strawberry salad.. 3 glasses of sweet tea.
Was their dirt cake..I'd like some dirt cake please.

We do food too.. roast beef, mostacholli, salad, cake and a million side dishes. We have also had catered funerals..but they are usually a family members italian resturant so the menu is the same as above.

Anonymous said...

I'm in Utah and we to pile on the food when someone dies. You're sure to receive at least one item from everyone you ever worked with, went to church with, were neighbors with, etc. There is never a lack of food. I to thought this was normal and everyone, everywhere did the same thing.

Then my father-in-law died and we went to Sioux Falls SD where he had lived his whole life. The church provided a nice meal after the funeral but hardly anyone brought food to the house. After driving 20 hrs to get there I got to cook dinner for 30 people. Heaven forbid that any of the family who lived right there and didn't have to travel do it.

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