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Partial to Home: Funeral food and funeral flowers

 

Birney Imes

 

 

Saturday, a week ago, on the way home from a graveside service at Friendship, I drove through Trash Alley where a garage sale and fish fry were in progress. Thinking some levity might be a nice follow-up to what had been a solemn event, I rolled the window down and asked what was cooking. Fish and chicken. 

 

So, yes, there under the shade of a hackberry tree next to Geraldine Murray's home, I enjoyed a chicken wing plate and the company of Geraldine's brother, Morris Murray, a local history enthusiast, and those assembled. Fredrick Scott, grill master for the occasion, seasoned the chicken with a Jamaican jerk seasoning. It was delicious. 

 

Trash Alley, by the way, is 11th Avenue South between Fifth and Seventh streets. Though at one time the name may have been merited, the strip is now well groomed and litter free. That is not to say there aren't other "trash alleys" in our town. 

 

"Nobody eats better than a bereaved Southerner." The quote comes from a Southern Living article on funeral food. Recipes included with the article are classic macaroni and cheese, ham biscuits, Mama's fried chicken and all manner of casseroles. 

 

I can think of at least one addition to that line-up. 

 

After the funeral of newspaperman and professor Bill Sorrells in West Point in 2008, I went to Stafford's Big Burger and ordered a large chocolate milkshake. It seemed a fitting epilogue to "Wild Bill's" interment, one he would have likely appreciated. 

 

Bill, whose journalism career included a stint at Life magazine and more than two decades at The Commercial Appeal, hearkened back to the days of lead type and hard-bitten editors who had few reservations about raised voices and the use of expletives to motivate their charges when they didn't perform to expectations. 

 

Not to say Bill did any of that. At The W, as a journalism prof, he was a patient mentor. Bill wrote a lovely series of columns for The Dispatch in the run-up to the U.S. Women's Open Golf Championship at Old Waverly in 1999.  

 

On a recent morning just before sunrise, I drove past a grouping of spider lilies on a grassy lot at the corner of Eight Street and Ninth Avenue South. 

 

There was something ethereal about the simple beauty of the cluster of several dozen fresh (they pop up after a fall rain) pale red flowers in a green field in misty morning light. One more quiet example of nature's efforts to add beauty to our lives.  

 

Spider lilies are also called hurricane lilies because they appear during hurricane season. 

 

A delightful illustration of the adaptability of these unassuming fall flowers can be found in front of Mark and Alison Alexander's house on Seventh Street immediately south of Fire Station No. 1. Growing in the narrow step-down between the curb and sidewalk is a 20-foot strip of spider lilies. 

 

Their beauty is ephemeral. Already the blooms of local Lycoris radiata are fading. If you want to see this year's show, I'd suggest a drive-about paying special attention to vacant lots. 

 

The bulbs of the spider lily are poisonous. According to Wikipedia they are planted at the edge of rice paddies in Japan to keep at bay the mice and other pests. 

 

Buddhists pay tribute to their ancestors by planting spider lilies on their graves. In the fall when the flowers are blooming, they offer tribute to the dead there. Since they are associated with death -- the Japanese often use them in funerals -- best not to give a bouquet of these flowers to a loved one. 

 

Better a chocolate milkshake or some jerk chicken wings.

 

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.

 

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