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 say 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 fishing. 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. It kind of aggravates me, to tell you the truth, and we 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.
Of course, you have to remember that my sister, Louise, 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.
Early one morning, Tink was driving to the airport and 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 said. “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 doubled over laughing.
“Don’t laugh,” he said. “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.
“Nothing sells better,” he claimed. “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,” my longtime friend said, 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 the 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.
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