The Pleasant Hill Baptist church sits out in the country. The fellowship hall is a sardine can.
It is an old room with drooping ceiling fans, paned windows, and carpet stains that predate the Vietnam War.
There is a Kimball spinet. Folding tables. An old-school kitchen with a pass-through window, á la Brady Bunch. The place is so nostalgic it hurts.
It was a big dinner. The men wore neckties. The women wore pearls. Girls wore dresses. Boys wore blazers. Hair-color-wise, the room was evenly split. Half gray hair; half bald.
Slocomb, Alabama, is a 2,082-person town. They were all here today. Plus a few more. David Peters recently inherited his imperishable mansion. This was his homegoing service.
And what a funeral it was.
“David Peters was a good man.” That’s what everyone was saying. That’s what they always say at funerals.
They said it at my father’s funeral. They said it at my grandfather’s funeral. They will be saying it a thousand years from now. And it will always be true.
When I was kid, we called the meal before the ceremony the “reception dinner.” Other churches called it the “mercy meal.” I once attended a Jewish funeral, they call it the “shiva.” Little country churches, way out in the sticks, call it a “repast.”
The funeral food sat piled atop card tables, forming one of the most handsome nutritional displays I’ve ever seen. I don’t have space to list all the dishes. But I’ll mention the MVPs.
Fried chicken. Butter beans. Collards, swimming in grease, adorned with chunks of pork the size of mass-market paperbacks.
Creamed potatoes thick enough to pave parking lots. Creamed corn—three varieties. Cheesy noodle casserole. Sweet potato pie. Shut my mouth. Stringbeans.
Crowder peas, zipper peas, rattlesnakes, purple hulls, and turkey craws. If you don’t know what those are, you really need to get out of the subdivision once in a while.
I almost cried when I saw the chicken and dumplings. There were hard-boiled eggs in the dumplings. My granny used to put hard boiled eggs in dumplings. You don’t see that much anymore. In fact, you don’t see many young people preparing dumplings at all.
I ate three plates. Then I consulted the dessert table. Peach cobbler, old-fashioned chocolate pudding meringue pie, apple-cinnamon sopapilla, “coker-nut” cake, German chocolate cake, strawberry cake, Oreo-and-vanilla-ice-cream surprise.
I had to visit the kitchen to meet the “hands that prepared it.”
Miss Annette Hall was cleaning dishes, elbow deep in a cheese-encrusted hotel pan. She made the dumplings. Miss Annette didn’t see anything particularly special about her dumplings. She laughed when I complimented her.
“They’re real simple to make,” she said. “I do’em for every funeral. I put hard-boiled eggs in them because my granny did that. Just how we growed up eating.”
There were other cooks involved in the funeral spread. Diane Smith, Maxine Smith, Jackie Smith, Betty Smith, and about sixteen other Smiths. There was also Melba Peters, Malcolm Childs, Theresa Fugate, and approximately 47 dutiful husbands who were all instructed to be seen and not heard.
Do people still name their daughters Melba? I hope so.
“We didn’t cook this food to be noticed,” they all told me. “We did it because David Peters was a good man.”
Later, I spoke with elderly Miss Virginia, who’s old enough to have an autographed Bible. She’s been coming to this church since Eisenhower was in office. She’s attended a lot of repasts in this room.
“You see all those ladies in the kitchen?” she said, wearing a wistful look. “I remember when they were all just teenagers, learning how to cook. I remember when their hair was all in bows.”
Miss Virginia is a slender woman with an accent like ribbon cane syrup. She is every church lady from a feckless boyhood I can hardly remember. One of the Faithful.
I see her and I remember too much. I remember the funeral of my own father when I was a boy. I remember being too sick to eat dinner. I remember locking myself in the bathroom and crying until I couldn’t breathe. Several church ladies gathered outside the bathroom and begged me to come out. Sometimes, I remember too much.
“You know, life moves quick,” said Miss Virginia. “One moment it’s here, the next minute, it ain’t.”
Today they laid a good man to rest in the soil of Geneva County. And I am once again reminded that life does indeed move so fast that it will break your neck.
David Peters was a good man.
Hawk - April 15, 2023 12:00 pm
BOOKS CAN BE WRITTEN SURROUNDING THIS PARAGRAPH!
“Crowder peas, zipper peas, rattlesnakes, purple hulls, and turkey craws. If you don’t know what those are, you really need to get out of the subdivision once in a while.”
cherylcrt - April 15, 2023 1:51 pm
Today we are laying to rest of my very good friends. He grew up playing piano from age 6, and played for his own grandfathers funeral at age 9. He had been the choir master/pianist/organist in my local town church for the last 25+ years. He was a good man.
Nan Corbitt Allen - April 15, 2023 5:01 pm
I’m from Geneva and this is really close to home.
Nan Allen - April 15, 2023 5:07 pm
I grew up in Geneva and can relate to all of this. Now I’m hungry for peas and butter beans.
Gayle Boyette - May 2, 2023 11:53 am
I came home to Geneva County after living away since high school. I bought a farm just outside of Slocomb where I now raise peas, butter beans and Slocomb Tomatoes. As a Smith descendant, myself, I am obliged to bring these same foods to any “bring a covered dish” occasions. This story covered everything except the good feeling of finding your dish empty when you retrieve it from the table!
Melba Richardson - May 7, 2023 5:42 pm
One mother did name her daughter Melba many years ago! Born in DeFuniak Springs, Florida but grew up in Crestview, Florida. Thank you, Sean of the South!