The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral

From the chapter entitled “Dying Tastefully in the Mississippi Delta”

After the solemnity of the church service and the finality of the grave, the people of the Mississippi Delta are just dying to get to the house of the bereaved for the reception. This is one of the three times a Southerner gets out all the good china and silver: the other two are christenings and weddings. The silver has most likely been specially polished for the occasion. Polishing silver is the Southern lady’s version of grief therapy.

Southern ladies have a thing about polishing silver. We’d be hard pressed to tell you how many of our friends and their mothers have greeted the sad news of a death in the family by going straight to the silver chest and starting to polish everything inside. Maybe it has something to do with an atavistic memory of defending our silver from the Yankees, but it does ensure that the silver will be sparkling for the reception, which always follows the funeral.

Friends and family begin arriving with covered dishes, finger foods, and sweets as soon as the word is out that somebody has died. We regard it as a civic duty to show up at the house and at the funeral because what we call a “big funeral” is respectful to the dead and flattering to the surviving relatives. After the cemetery, people go back to the house to be received by the family. Sometimes we talk bad about the deceased between the grave and the aspic, but we straighten up and are on our best behavior the minute we get to the house.

The burial, which is solemn though rarely entirely devoid of humor, most likely takes place at the old cemetery on South Main Street. The old cemetery is one of the best addresses in Greenville, Mississippi. Being buried anywhere else is a fate worse that death in Greenville. The FFGs—that’s for First Families of Greenville—would simply refuse to die if they weren’t assured a spot. Not that the cemetery is strictly FFG. Not by a long shot. Lola Belle Crittenden, bless her heart, had to plant a huge hedge around her ancestral plot. Why? The neighbors. “They were so tacky,” Lola Belle huffed.