The 20th anniversary of my dad's death is quickly approaching [July 11th] and reading Catherine's blog about Hash Brown Casserole got me to thinking about funerals and food and how we do things in the South.
In my experience, I've never seen a church hold a reception after a funeral. I know it's done. I've just not seen it. Every funeral I've ever attended was at a church, and afterwards those close to the family went back to the house and carried some food to share, and there was a potluck post-funeral gathering.
When you're mourning you don't feel like cooking. You want to be comforted by lovely homemade food from other people, people who genuinely care about you and who also [you hope] can cook.
On Dad's side of the family there is usually a fair amount of post-funeral drinking, too, but that was more common in the older generations. I am part of the wine and beer generation, thanks be to God.
When Dad died there was a relative who showed up who was an in-law, and none of us ever liked her. She married one of Dad's cousins. There was a good bit of consternation as to how to get away from her and get back to the house without her following anyone. She had never been to my parents' house and we didn't want her there. I know that sounds mean, but outside St. Paul's after the funeral she screamed and carried on like Dad was her dearest friend in the world and I'm quite sure she hadn't seen him in at least ten years. She grabbed me and crushed me to her bosom until I thought I was going to pass out from the fumes. I am pretty sure she had been drinking. Her makeup sure looked like she had...
Anyway, we made it back to my parents house and she didn't follow, thank goodness. My mom was under enough of a strain.
My dad was a member of Rotary, very active in the church, and had sat on boards of a number of organizations around town. So there were more than 300 people at the funeral, and at least a hundred at the house afterwards. Lots of folks to feed.
We got so many platters of food which apparently came from the grocery store deli, we could have made sandwiches for a thousand people. That's OK. We also got some fried chicken that was edible, but a lot of the food was just a mystery, or inedible, or it had been made by people who couldn't cook.
My mother had a friend who simply could.not.cook. An invitation to eat at her house was always stressful. How to say no without appearing mean? She had no taste buds and did not believe in "disguising" the taste of vegetables with seasonings. When she brought food after Dad died, my brother and I carefully and quietly marked it, put it in the fridge, and after she left we tossed it in the garbage. A lot of the food had gone home with various cousins that lived in Augusta, after the fridge and freezers were filled, but we didn't want to re-gift that horrible food to anyone. The suffering would have been compounded.
One friend brought a sandwich platter covered with edible glitter.
One of the kindest and most thoughtful food gifts after Dad died came from a neighbor down the street we really didn't know well. She brought small loaf pans filled with wonderful homemade macaroni and cheese. We froze some and ate some. It was the perfect comfort food and I've always been grateful to her.
When my grandfather died in 1972 lots of folks brought cakes and casseroles but nobody brought any meat. My mother was horrified. Thereafter, whenever taking food to grieving people, my mom always included dishes with MEAT. Grief requires protein, is her belief. (I'm not sure what would have happened if she had ever felt called to take food to a vegetarian. Probably a baked bean dish of some sort, or macaroni and cheese...)
I have already told Mom when she dies I do not want to go through the ordeal of a formal funeral service. I will have her cremated [as she wishes] and I will invite close friends and relatives to a small memorial potluck gathering. We will tell stories about her and celebrate her life, and play music, and EAT. At some point I will put her ashes in the ocean. (Or possibly in the creek behind our house, depending on whether or not I can afford a beach trip...)
Since my mother is very fond of beef, in all forms, we will eat beef, in her honor. Possibly hamburgers on the grill, or roast beef sandwiches. In any event, our mourning will include plenty of protein.
I hope I will be able to eat. I hope someone will bring something decadently chocolate.