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Ronda Rich: That time the lights went out in Georgia
Ronda Rich
Ronda Rich

One Saturday night, Louise called and asked if we wanted to go with her and Rodney to a funeral the next day.

Tink did not know the woman and I had met her only once, but she was an enormously kind person who was loved by many. She regularly bought my signed books for gifts. Too, Southerners sometimes use funerals for entertainment the way the British use polo games.

Generally, the farther away the funeral is from home, the more appealing it is for a normally slow Sunday afternoon. Nonnie lived two hours away so, for all these reasons, it was especially appealing.

Though the loss of such a precious woman was sad, it did, indeed, turn out to be entertaining when Tink, in a dark suit, was mistaken for a pallbearer. Then they carried Miss Nonnie out of the chapel to the energetic sounds of Elvis Presley singing “Polk Salad Annie.”

She loved Elvis.

And, that was her favorite song. John Tinker, ever the reverent Yankee, was stunned momentarily before joining us in laughter. It has become a story he now tells fairly regularly: The day he saw a casket taken from the altar while Elvis Presley sang a jolting, hip-shaking song.

On the way home, I was talking to Louise about Merri Grace, one of my best friends from college. Merri Grace was loyal, thoughtful, and an absolutely hilarious storyteller. She was also resolutely stubborn and opinionated which could either be wildly entertaining or totally frustrating — or both at the same time.

She was not only a Republican, she was a lobbyist so she knew politics up one side and down the other. At dinner several years ago, the discussion centered on whatever election was going on at the time.

“I’m really fed up with all of them,” she said. “I’ve decided that from now on, I’m going to vote for the candidate who has the best-looking hair.”

She was serious.

Two years ago, Merri Grace began posting etiquette tips that were directed primarily, but not necessarily, toward the younger folks gathering at the Capitol for the legislative session. Her second post from the current session was as followed:

“Etiquette Tip No. 2 — Let’s get this one out of the way early. Leggings: not pants. They should not be worn to work, church or the Capitol. If it is very cold outside, get a pair of cute tights to wear under your dress or skirt. Or, here’s an idea: wear a pair of wool slacks. Save your leggings for the gym, a lazy Saturday or the grocery store paired with a long top or short dress. Unless you’re under 5. Then you can wear them anytime.”

Her posts were hilarious. She did not mince words and she never apologized. If she said it, she meant it.

“Do you read Merri Grace’s posts?” I asked Louise.

“No. Are they good?”

“Immensely entertaining. Just like her.”

Louise pressed a button on her phone and sent a friend request. It would turn out that it was the last friend request sent to Merri Grace. Unbeknownst to us, she had been rushed to the emergency room after collapsing shortly after leaving a legislative event. When Louise sent the request, Merri Grace was two hours away from entering into life everlasting.

There was no laughter at the funeral home when Merri’s mother laid her head on my shoulder and cried. But, entertaining as Merri Grace always was, she left us with a wink. For years she had quoted from every episode of “Designing Women”. One of her favorites was to recite the long tirade of Julia’s about the pageant when Suzanne won by tossing her baton so high that it short-circuited the lights.

“And THAT’S the night that the lights went out in Georgia!” Julia declared.

That was the last line of Merri Grace’s obit. No truer words were ever spoken.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at Her column appears Tuesdays and on