Thursday, April 13, 2006

Funereal Fun

My neighbors on each side when I was growing up were Elaine and Eloise, three years older than I who constantly dangled the future in front of me with such taunts as, "you haven't lived until you can ride a bicycle, you haven't lived until you've gone to school, you haven't lived until you are in the 3rd grade, you haven't lived until you can shave your legs, wear make-up, drive, date" and on it went with all kinds of milestones always ahead. Maybe that's why I've lived in the future most of my life instead of enjoying the present. Sure, I think I'll blame them for that! Why not?

Naturally, Elaine and Eloise went to a funeral before I did and told the other younger ones of us all about it. I was fascinated, asked questions, and filed the information away. It would be a while before I would actually see a dead person. I think I was probably around 11 or 12 when a neighbor died. She was young and the mother of two girls, one who was a couple of years older and one younger than I. The casket was in her home, and Mother took me there with her to pay respects. Then when I was in the 8th grade, a classmate died. He was a twin. They took a bus with all of us in his class who wanted to and were allowed to attend his funeral in a small country church. That was my first funeral.

Well, it was my first funeral for a person. Daddy always raised a garden and chickens, so I grew up on fresh vegetables, eggs, and chicken. Mother canned the vegetables, made apple sauce and tomato juice, and all kinds of delicious food. One day I remember that one of the baby chickens died, so I suggested to the neighbors that we have a funeral for it. We all volunteered for various roles. I wanted to be the family, so I could pretend to cry (ever the actress!). We had someone else to be the choir and another for the pallbearer (don't need but one for a matchbox with a baby chick in it). We needed someone to preach the funeral and thought Eloise's father would be the perfect candidate since he played the organ at their church. He refused. We were upset but found a replacement. The funeral was dramatic and grand and is something that I've discovered many other Southern children have played. I'm not so sure about other parts of the country, but then funeral home etiquette here allows for it to be a social occasion as well as a time to offer support and condolences.

After a while we were ready for another funeral, but nothing else had died. One of the older ones suggested that we kill a bee and then have a funeral for it. Made sense to us. So we caught a bee, put it in a jar, but didn't punch holes in the top they way we did for lightning bugs. It takes a while for a bee to die that way and would have been much more merciful if we'd stepped on it. In retrospect, I realized how cruel that was, but for those of us who had been stung by bumblebees, we didn't seem to mind. We watched the jar for days to check the progress of the bee's death. Yes, it's macabre, but there is a dark side to Southerners I'm not sure I can explain. Maybe one of my other blogmates can.

The bee died, and we had an elaborate funeral for him. Somehow we tired of funerals and didn't have another one. Perhaps it was too mafia-like to go to a funeral of someone we had killed. I don't know. Maybe we moved on to something else. That was the day we got our first television. Yes, kids, I was a child before TV and remember playing outside all day and into the evening. I was probably around seven or eight years old. We would just turn it on to watch certain shows we wanted to see and then turn it off again. It took it a while to warm up, and there was a test pattern on it when the stations were off the air. Everything was in black and white. It was a novelty but not something we kept on or watched all the time. I do remember Howdy Doody, Hopalong Cassidy, Doodles Weaver, Spike Jones, and other shows, but those are for another post. For now, I remember that we got our first television the day of the bee funeral.

When I told this story to students, I generally got reactions and comments from them about how cruel I was. Lots of kidding followed, especially by Challenge Class student Ben Blankenship, who presented me with this gift of bees in a jar. Thanks, Ben!


MaconMacGuy said...

I always thought the thing banning white before memorial day and after labor day was dumb. I mean, this is the South! It's summer in middle GA until at least the end of October.

I teach college, and I have kids coming to clas in shorts until at least summer lasts a long long time.

Fascinating stories - and nicely written as well.

Anonymous said...

This is so funny. Now I know where to get my laugh for the day. Jill