Sunday, September 21, 2008

Death and Shuck Beans

A Barbourville funeral is different from an Erlanger funeral.

For one thing, in Bar'ville, the pallbearers ride in their own limousine in the procession from the funeral home to the cemetery. (Seriously, this struck me as uber-weird; ever see this before? I mean, I've been to a lot of funerals, and Jason has served as pallbearer before, but never before have I seen them, um, honored this way.) For another thing, a Barbourville funeral is more of a social event. It's a small town, not much goes on, and everybody knows everybody, so people who maybe didn't know the deceased beyond a nodding acquaintance but who once loaned the deceased's granddaughter her bicycle which the grandaugher subsequently rode down the side of a mountain and crahsed into a ditch, damn near killing herself, will show up if for no other reason than to socialize a little during their lunch break.

I swear that's the truth. I returned from a potty break to the visitation room of the funeral home where my grandmother was "layed out" to see my older sister in lively conversation with a woman I'd never seen before.

"This is my little sister. You haven't seen her since she was a baby. Hey, Cranky, this is the girl whose bike I rode off the hill."

While it was great to meet this person who featured as a prominent bystander in my sister's first (but not last!) near-death experience, I couldn't help but wonder why she was at Granny's funeral. But then my sister told me that this woman's sister works with our cousin "Sissy", and it kinda almost made sense for her to want to show up and see who all was there that she could visit with.


No, I get it. I do. After all, I lived in Knox County for six memorable months in fourth grade. We went to a lot of visitations, and I would ask my mom, "How do we know this person?" And she would say something like, "The dead person's housekeeper is my cousin Emily's second cousin by marriage twice removed ," which I knew just meant Mom needed a social life.

A lot of businesses fail in Knox County, Ky., but the owners of the two rival funeral homes are the two wealthiest families in the county. Not everyone wants their car detailed on a regular basis during hard economic times, but everybody dies sooner or later. And these homes do death really, really well. They accept that it's a social event, and yet they somehow keep it classy for the family of the deceased. So classy that the pallbearers make a more dramatic getaway than the bridesmaids did at my wedding.

And one more thing...Barbourville funerals have shuck beans.

See, another Erlanger/Barbourville funeral difference is that, at least on my side of the family, we don't have wakes after the service. When Jason's grandmother died soon after we got married, and the whole fam damily and friends gathered at his mom's after the graveside service to eat food brought by a caterer friend and to drink impressive amounts of white zinfandel, I was stunned. I had heard of wakes, and seen them in movies and on TV, but thought they were a dramatic device, like the "TV grocery bag" which always has a loaf of french bread and something green and leafy sticking out the top, despite the fact the real life grocery bag is never so romantic.

Lo, in northern Kentucky, in Jason's family at least, people really do gather after a funeral to eat and to get a wee bit drunk. In my family, we all just say what we need to say at the funeral home, hug each other goodbye at the family plot, and go home. Maybe it's because it's a dry county, maybe we're just less of a party people. All I know is it just is.

But Cora Mae's shuck beans make up for it.

Mom's sister Cora Mae offered to feed our little branch of the family during a break between the visitation and funeral. Her house specialty is shuck beans (called "shucked beans" by the more educated, proper, and snooty), which are home-grown green beans hung on a line like laundry to dehydrate in the sun, allowing them to absorb even more pork fat during the southern cooking process. Bad for you? I reckon. But they taste like heaven even though they might clog your arteries and make you get there faster.

My sister, who does not generally show affection to anyone, walked up to Cora Mae after she lifted the lid on the beans and kissed her in a most European way on both cheeks.

"Cora Mae, I sure do love you."


Yes, a Barbourville funeral is a little different. My Knox County family does death and shuck beans better'n all you Yankees.


Karen said...

Now, now, gathering at someone's house after a funeral is not all country. We've done it at just about every funeral I've been to (including the one I went to in Danville). I just never knew it was referred to as a wake. I thought it was just eating food at someone's house. ;) Cuz' going to funerals is hard work.

dd said...

We always go to someone's house after the service, too. And generally, there is "toasting" in honor!
I thought the wake actually had to have the deceased there...seriously, my mom and dad went to a hall in Latonia and the person WAS there! Not like up next to the buffett table or anything but there! Oh yeah, they had a keg, too....hahahahaha That sounds more like what I would like to have happen for me....going out with a party! :-)