My long-suffering and ever faithful people spent their lives toiling while looking forward to heavenly rest when death finally called.
Most folks these days enjoy life on earth so much they don’t want to leave it even for heaven. That would not be my people, the generations gone before. In their eyes, each day lived was one day closer to a heavenly reward. Dying was what they lived for.
“That’s the only thing in life worth working toward,” Daddy used to say. “Lookin’ forward to that land of promise where the weary shall find rest.”
With that in mind, they thought a lot about death and talked about it as naturally as they discussed marriage or childbirth. They talked about Scriptures to be read, songs to be sung and places to buried.
Daddy’s long-held philosophy was, “Don’t worry about an expensive casket but make sure you buy the best vault possible.”
I laugh now as I recall that because I don’t know anyone in my generation who thinks that way. But that was typical for the generations that came before.
Another thing — and this is why I’m thinking about this now — is they were always squirreling away money for burial. Not one of them saved for their children to have college educations or for retirement. Their life’s savings was to pay to bury them so they could leave this life, having paid every debt owed.
Frequently, when I was growing up, I heard my grandparents or parents say, “I got to make sure I’ve got enough money to bury me.”
When someone died in our church or community, two questions would always be asked. First came, “What ‘kilt’ him?” Second was “Did he have enough to bury him?”
Everyone wanted to escape the stigma of a pauper’s grave, which is what the county provided by way of a pine box, lowered into an anonymous grave (no markers for those poor souls) by convicts dressed in stripes and leg chains.
“That’s one that the chain gang will bury for sure,” I remember hearing about a very old, penniless man who died when I was 7 or 8 years old.
For the past 20 years of her life whenever Mama took money from her savings account to buy something, she would say, “I gotta make sure I keep enough back to bury me.”
And to be completely truthful, Mama taking money from her savings very seldom happened. She never wanted anything enough to use savings to buy it.
I borrowed money from Mama once and spent years trying to pay her back.
Every time I offered, she’d say, “Just hold onto it. That way I’ll know I have enough money to bury me if something happens to the money I’ve got put back. I know I can count on you to have it.”
This has come up recently, because two humble and much loved men died and was little if any was there to bury either man. Both served God and fellow man, leaving behind them a sowing of kindness and a harvest of good deeds. So, the community rallied together and raised the money to bury them. No one judged. They just loved.
I was 6 or 7 years old when Daddy stood in the pulpit before a casket and explained the family had no money to bury the young man killed unexpectedly in a car wreck. The family was so poor even other poor people considered them “the poorest of the poor.” Daddy instructed a collection plate be passed as “Amazing Grace” was played. I don’t know how much was collected, but I do remember the undertaker gratefully thanking Daddy for the gesture.
My grandmother had a little black, homemade pouch that stored carefully folded money. Daily, she tucked it inside her bra.
“This oughta be enough to bury me,” she’d say.
And, it was.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com/ronda.