southern-fried funeral

by anna rabhan
Where I come from when your mother gives you a book, you read it – especially if she gives you that book for your birthday. Never mind if it’s titled Being Dead is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral. Don’t ask!
This wickedly morbid anthropological study-cum-cookbook was written by two Greenville, Mississippi, natives. One of them is currently a journalist living in D.C. and a self-described recovering gossip columnist. These two must be a hoot when sharing one of their “restorative cocktails!” I wouldn’t recommend actually attempting many of the recipes. There is, after all, a good reason Mississippi has just received the title, for the fifth straight year, of “state with the fattest residents.” The authors themselves acknowledge that, “Salt, sugar and fat are the three major food groups here.”
However, if you grew up eating stuffed eggs, cheese straws and pineapple upside-down cake at every “occasion” or if your grandmother, too, considered that, “Polishing silver is the Southern lady’s version of grief therapy,” then this book promises a raucous walk down memory lane.
But it’s the stories that really steal the spotlight in Gayden Metcalfe and Anne Hays’ book. To explain why “the funeral” is just as big of an event as “the wedding” in the Delta, the authors instruct, “We regard it as a civic duty to show up at the house and at the funeral because what we call a ‘big funeral’ is respectful to the dead and flattering to the surviving relatives.” Can’t you just hear the syrupy pause before that last phrase?
In the chapter “Suitably Boxed: Meringue Shells, Pecan Tassies…and You,” the authors explain why Delta natives would rather return from exile in New York City (where they could get much more mileage out of “that cute Southern accent” than back home) to be buried “surrounded by the same annoying relatives they left town to escape.” They recall Lutie Bartlett, “whose moonlight-on-the-old-plantation accent is so thick as to be unintelligible even to us,” and her contribution to “her people” during her many years as a Manhattanite.
“As a member of the Magnolia Mafia, Lutie is proud that one night, when blind drunk, she ordered her taxi to halt, then stepped out and released her dinner on a statue of General Sherman near the Plaza Hotel.”
Regional humor is funny, though, because it isn’t really regional at all. Even the staunchest Yankee could die (Sorry!) laughing because he had witnessed a debacle similar to the disastrous funeral recalled in the chapter “I Was So Embarrassed I Liketa Died.”
“Planning Mrs. Jessup’s funeral did not call for creativity. She was the sort of old lady who had never in her life sung a hymn not found in the 1940 Anglican hymnal. … That is why the Mount Bethel Struttin’ Gospel Choir was probably not an entirely appropriate musical choice for her funeral. … She might also have regarded the eight or nine flashy limos, rented by her son-in-law Cooter, as more suitable for a Mafia don than herself. But the situation deteriorated further.”
And it does get so much worse – and so funny! No spoilers here, though.
Metcalfe and Hays have since published two other books, Somebody is Going to Die if Lilly Beth Doesn’t Catch That Bouquet: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Wedding (2007) and Some Day You’ll Thank Me for This: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Being a “Perfect” Mother (2009).
Read Being Dead is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral. You’ll never look at stuffed eggs the same way again!
The authors caution of a “civil war” that rages over whether stuffed eggs should be sweet or savory, and they offer several versions of the recipe, including this one:

Todd Lane’s Eggs
Ingredients :
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons finely minced celery
1 1/2 tablespoon Kraft sandwich spread
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (Lea & Perrins)
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon salt
chopped parsley, no more than a quarter cup
paprika to be sprinkled as garnish
Makes one dozen servings
Peel hard-boiled eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Remove yolks and mash. Add to yolks the mixture made from listed ingredients. Stuff the eggs and garnish, then chill the stuffed eggs, not because they’ll kill you if you don’t, but because putting them in the icebox for a bit gives the flavors an opportunity to mingle.