When he asked it, I answered. Then I laughed. The question proved that my husband, a New England-bred Yankee with many years of Los Angeles influence, was morphing into a true Southerner.
We were driving home and each had fallen into our own thoughts when, suddenly, he asked, “What do you want on your tombstone?”
Trust me. I have no idea where that question came from at that moment. No one had died or was dying. A temporary dry spell in our lives. No recent discussion had centered on funerals or such. But this is how Southerners think — what kinds of funerals with which songs and preachers and pallbearers and what the burial monuments will record.
“That’s all she wrote,” I shot back in answer.
I thought it would get a laugh. Instead, he nodded as though he was absorbing it.
Actually, I had thought about that as my epitaph for several years, ever since I had visited a Hollywood cemetery where many stars like Douglas Fairbanks, Janet Gaynor and Rudolph Valentino are buried. Mel Blanc, the voice behind all the Loony Tunes characters including Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, has the most perfect inscription I have ever seen.
“Th-th-that’s all, folks,” it says, a bow to Blanc’s famous line voiced as Porky Pig. Laughing while standing at his grave, it occurred to me that I wanted people to laugh and, long after, remember my epitaph, so “That’s all she wrote,” sounded perfect.
When Tink signaled that he had heard and would perform correctly if I should go first. I said, “No, I don’t know. Maybe something else. I’ll think about it.”
We fell back into our thoughts, but mine were different than they had been a couple of minutes earlier. I chuckled to myself. It is safe to say that the man I married a few years ago had, in his previous years, never thought about funerals or monuments. His or anyone else’s. When we married, he had known only a few people who died and had attended only five or six funerals.
“Six funerals is a slow year for me,” I had said.
It makes me think of a friend of mine, Tim Richmond, a NASCAR star in the years when I worked on the circuit. He called me once, all jittery and upset. A close friend of his had died, and he was in an uproar over whether or not to go.
“Tim,” I had said, “there is no decision to make here. He was your dear friend. You go. What on Earth is wrong with you?”
He then admitted that he had never been to a funeral. I nearly dropped the phone. I grew up going to funerals and visiting when folks “lay a corpse.” Mama and Daddy dragged me everywhere they went.
There is a smell that hearkens back to that time for me — the scent of flowers, particularly carnations, blended with strong coffee percolating in a tall pot.
“You’re kiddin’, right?”
He wasn’t. And he didn’t. What I did not know then, but he knew, was that his death from a terminal illness was fast approaching. The first and only funeral he ever attended was his own. He was a Yankee, too.
So, Tink is marching strongly and forthrightly into Southern citizenship. His mind is beginning to parade along the lines of how we think.
He said previously, “Put me in a plain, pine box. No frills or varnish. I’m serious.”
“I agree,” I said. “Same for me.”
He wasn’t one who embraced this kind of thinking. He rebuked it for a long time and sighed when the prayer chain reported another death.
But, clearly, he is coming around to our way of thinking. Things are a-changing.
Which makes me believe this: Any day now, he’s going to start eating grits. Mark my words.
Rich is a best-selling Southern author. Go to www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.