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A Funeral to Remember
~getting there is half the fun~
by Alita DeBerry

I don't have to remind you that we Southerners take our cemeteries seriously. We visit our deceased loved ones' graves, we take flowers, we pay for the upkeep of the final resting place of our parents, grandparents, friends, kin and neighbors.

And anything pertaining to "God's Little Acre" is seldom a laughing matter. But now and again we can relieve the stress of our sadness when some lighthearted and humorous episode manifests itself.

This account is one of them:

Most of us tend to take much for granted in life. And in death.

Take a normal day in the life of those whose profession is death; the mortuary business, a grave vocation, for most of us. Too few of us understand all the ups and downs of it, and the monumental tasks often involved.

For example, there's the fellow whose livelihood depends on chauffeuring the deceased to the graveyard.

Well, let me tell you, his day is not always wine and roses -- does not always run to the tune of a well-oiled machine.

Consider the case of this stalwart hearse driver, one of absent-minded persuasion, and throw in a regular three-ring-circus of misadventure and you'll see what I mean.

My field research relates an account which began innocently enough with an ordinary funeral on an ordinary day in a small Missouri town, with burial to be some seventy miles away in Sharp County, Arkansas.

The church service went well, but events took a downhill turn soon after leaving the church, when the funeral home's flower van was obliged to drop out of the line after losing its muffler.

This event proved to be the kiss of death (no pun intended) to the spirit of the whole occasion. However, the motorcade continued on its way minus the flower van.

Then, to add a bit of drama to the farewell sendoff, the chauffeur of the hearse realized his vehicle's fuel gauge was coming down on empty. And to make matters worse, and more complicated, he realized he'd have to search out a station which would honor his particular credit card.

Not being one to crumble in the face of small obstacles, however, he led the small cortege on a zigzag course (like the children's game of 'follow the leader') through town in search of his designated gas station.

Once tanked up, our hero realized the lateness of the hour, and decided, as had Casey Jones of railroad fame, that perhaps he could make up the lost time, and off he went at a very fast clip, especially for a funeral procession.

The vast turnout of mourners in their cars and pickups had little choice but to keep up. And all the while, in the rear of the funeral wagon lay the dearly departed, getting the ride of his life, but unable to know it.

Act three opens when the flower van suddenly sprints into view, overtaking the long column of automobiles, so as to comply with the social amenities and take its proper place in line behind the hearse. This is a prescribed custom of long standing for the man with the flowers. And he, too, was a resolute fellow.

There went the funeral procession, up and down the hills and hollows, through the Ozark foothills, winding in and out of curves at a frightening and dangerous rate of speed. A thousand wonders somebody wasn't hurled over a guard rail.

However, we're not talking about puny, lily-livered flatlanders who drive only on flat, straight highways; we're talking rural mountain folks of fortitude, accustomed to driving these hills and highways.

Finally, the graveyard hove into view.

And so our stouthearted hero entered the cemetery with his charge still in the casket, none the worse for wear, save being jolted around a bit.

Suddenly the flower van sped over a small hill and rear-ended the hearse, resulting in bent, banged-up casket, which could not be removed until the hearse doors had been pried open.

And that's not all; our hero of the hearse, having been shaken up himself, was taken to the hospital to be checked out, causing the ceremony to be delayed still longer.

The mourners could do naught but stand around and wait.

Later, the family of the dearly departed sued, of course. Something about a total lack of dignity.


Alita DeBerry has been writing professionally for twenty years, starting as a correspondent and feature writer for the Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL. For most of this time, Alita was also writing a column for several weeklies in the South. Her column has been published in the Atlanta JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION and her travel articles have appeared in several magazines.

CLICK HERE to read another of Alita's stories at USADS: "Remember Penpals?"
And here's another: Old fishing village.

Alita has been married to Horace DeBerry (the same man) for almost a half century. She refers to him in her columns as "The Frenchman." They have two daughters--Lisa and Stephanie.

The Deberry family has lived in various states--Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana, Colorado, California--and then retired to the home place in Carroll County, Mississippi, where Alita grew up. They've now stayed put for two decades.

Write Alita at Scribbler211.


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