One night, I fixed up and went to the funeral home because a close friend’s father was “layin’ a-corpse” as my mama used to say. He was 91. It had been a good life.
When I came into the stateroom, the first person I saw was a lovely, elderly woman sitting alone. I smiled and said, “Hello, how are you?” the way that Southerners do to be courteous.
Her eyes widened. “Oh, my. Are you who I think you are?”
I walked over and sat down beside her. “Well, I don’t know but I’m Ronda.”
She grabbed my arm excitedly. “Oh, I can’t believe this. I read every word you write.”
This, as you might imagine, began a conversation. I was most interested in her so I asked her name.
“My name is Maude Marie Sellars.” She sat up straight as she happily shared her life. “I grew up around here. Been here all my life. My daddy used to farm that land on the way up to Woody’s Gap. I’m a retired teacher. You might’ve known of my husband. Charles McEver?”
“Oh, yes, I’ve certainly heard of him. He was well thought of.”
She smiled, beatifically. “Yes, he was. We were married 47 years then he died. I was a widow woman for several years then I married again. His name was George Sellars. Very fine man, too.”
“Now, what did Mr. Sellars do for a living?”
“He was in insurance,” she said, adjusting the glasses on the bridge of her nose. “But he died, too. About two years ago. Now, I’m a widow woman again.” She shrugged.
To understand a person, you have to know their journey which means knowing their story. I always enjoy this — especially with older people who have seen so much down through the journey of life. After a bit, I excused myself to pay respects.
The family was standing in front of the casket so I hugged each one. Then my friend said, “I thought of you the other day…” And she began to tell a story. In a moment, someone tugged on my sleeve and said, “That woman over there said for you to stop holdin’ up the line.” I looked to where he pointed.
It was my sister who, I must say, has held up quite a few funeral receiving lines in her lifetime, talkin’ too much.
I said to my friend, “I’m gonna go over there and sit down and let the stories come to me.” She laughed. But it was true.
No sooner had my skirttail hit the seat then the undertaker came up. “You should have seen the funeral we did yesterday. I know you knowed him.” He launched into a tale of death, family and funeral arrangements. It was quite entertaining. He left when he was summoned to the phone.
As he walked away, a woman hurried over and said, “Have I got a story for you.” She sat down. I didn’t know her but she told a good tale about her aunt who lived to be 93. As the shadows of her life began to grow dim, her aunt took to bathing, powdering and perfuming every night in case the undertaker, whom she adored, had to come and get her during the night.
“If I die in the middle of the night, I want to smell real pretty for him. He’s always been so good to me,” she said.
Hours later, when I got home, Tink asked, “How was the funeral home?”
“It was great,” I responded. “I heard the best stories.” I launched into the tale of the first woman and was only halfway through when he held up his hand and stopped me.
“I get it.”
Somehow, I don’t think Tink has developed a robust appreciation for funeral home visits and the stories that are wrought.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column publishes weekly.