Yes, I know that I am occasionally prone to embellishment. But trust me when I say this is the law and the gospel: I have a longtime friend who only calls me when someone dies. Most times, I know the person, but sometimes I don’t have a clue the person ever existed.
“Oh,” she’ll said disappointedly. “I thought you knew him. But you know Sadie, don’t you? Her third cousin worked for him for years. So, you have a connection.”
The more tragic the news, the quicker the call comes.
“Yep. Got tangled up in his fishin’ line, fell face-first into the pond and that’s where she found him. She said he had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. You know, she makes blackberry jelly every summer. It’s a tradition. Last thing he ate on this earth. Then, he went fishin’. You never know, do you?”
This same friend is one I have cherished so I will, from time to time, reach out to check on her but she seldom responds. Only if someone died. Kind of aggravates me, to tell you the truth, and us being friends, you deserve the truth.
This I have to admit, though: She’s only doing what comes natural to her. She is, after all, many generations Southern bred and everyone knows that death, in the South, is big. It’s a natural discussion among us. Sometimes, at our Sunday dinner table, my family will launch into a discussion about what we want at our funerals and who is not to darken the door of the church to pretend to pay respects. We talks about hymns, preachers, scriptures and flowers.
Of course, you have to remember that my sister believes in paying respect to the dearly departed. She is more mature thinking and compassionate than I am, which is how she earned her own VIP parking place near the front door of the funeral home. She’s a regular.
One early morning, Tink was driving to the airport and was listening to local radio. Suddenly, he heard something he had never heard before. It surprised him so much that he grabbed his phone and recorded it. As soon as he was at the airport, he called.
“Baby!” He exclaimed. “You won’t believe what I heard on the radio this morning. I even recorded it so you would believe me.”
“They were reading obituaries.” He was shocked. I, on the other end of the line, doubled over laughing.
“Don’t laugh,” he chided. “This is serious.”
It was then left up to me to explain that local radio stations across the South have advertisers fighting to get the sponsorship for the “deaths.” A friend who owns a station told me that he has a waiting list of eight businesses that want that prime advertising spot should the town’s furniture store ever give it up.
“Nothin’ sells better,” he claims. “High school football in a winning season comes close. But the death notices are our No. 1 seller. Folks in town know to tune in at 8:20 a.m., 12:10 p.m. and 5:10 p.m.”
I was having brunch one morning at Louise’s with a tableful of folks. “Marvin Hand died last night,” she announced spur of the moment with a fork of grits casserole in hand.
Shock and sadness spread round the table and the mutterings began. “That’s what Bill said,” Louise replied motioning toward the other end of the table.
“What happened? When?” I asked Bill.
He shrugged. “That’s all I know. I heard it on the radio this morning.”
Despite myself, I had to chuckle. Oh, for a dollar every time Aunt Ozelle called Mama and said, “I heard on the obituaries this morning that…”
There are some outside our beloved South who will call this morbid and gothic. But it’s meaningful and important to us.
And, as a side note, it’s big business, too.