Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Crimson Mourning

Her mother died and was buried this past weekend.

When I heard about it, I was so sorry that I had not attended the viewing or the burial. Funerals are so important here. They are in so many ways the glue that holds the community together. Death is an important celebration on the mountain.

Jilly is delicately pretty in the way of mountain women. Her hair is raven black and her face is heart-shaped. I always marveled about her lovely milk-white skin. She's my age and thus an aging beauty, but still very lovely for a mountain woman. The mountain is hard on her women. They fade quickly like store bought flowers. You can only pick out the dead stems from the bouquet for so long.

The first time I met her I had gone to her house to pick up some hay. Her family's farm is on the verge of the Gulf and has long lovely stretches of green grass pasture. She often does not feel well and lays on a day bed near the front window where she can look out onto the grasslands.

But that first visit, she was feeling okay. She showed me her glass paintings of chickens and sun flowers on old windows. I thought they were amazing examples of outsider art. I've never been able to get paint to do that on glass. I've tried. I loved her art and encouraged her to keep at it. I told her about my friends from Atlanta who would love such work.

She smiled and dimpled. Then delicately spat a brown stream of tobacco juice into an empty coke can. She wiped her mouth daintily with a handkerchief.

Her son, Bobby, had been up to my place to cut wood for me a few times. Their family knows their way around a saw mill. Bobby is tall and handsome. All of the members of this family are extremely comely. I watched carefully as Bobby used his boot to manipulate the big log as he sawed through it. I learned most of my own chainsaw technique by watching him.

So, I was sad to hear that her Momma had died. I hadn't been keeping up with the local papers and had missed it.

Betty told me about it after the fact.

They arranged her dead mother's hair into an elaborate up do of glossy black hair.

People like to keep their hair jet black up here. Dying it that color even when the face has lost the warmth and smoothness of youth.

Another woman had told me about when her own mother had died. They had not done that to her mother, but there was a bit of a ruckus at the viewing. One of her competitors for her elderly suitor's affections had shown up at the funeral. She was occupied with the business of being a grieving daughter when she caught the transgressor entering the funeral home from the corner of her eye.

Evaline was 81 years old. She showed up with her jet black wig and wore a fringed red dress with a plunging neckline that left little to the imagination in this world without plastic surgery. She had on black hose with shiny red peep-toe pumps and red, red lips. She fumed as she watched the octogenarian hussy drape herself over the suitor in the middle of the funeral home.

Widows come out of the woodwork here for funerals. You never know when a widower might need a sympathetic bosom to rest his weary head on. Widowers don't stay that way long up here. No sirree.

We dubbed Evaline the "Funereal Flirt". It's one of my favorite stories.

But Jilly's mom's funeral was a different matter. Jilly's mom's favorite color was red. She had loved red her entire life. And so her family honored her with redness for her last goodbye.

Contrasting her black hair, they painted her corpse's lips a rich bright glossy red. Each fingernail was lovingly decorated with bright red enamel. She was dressed in the brightest of red dresses and laid in her bright red coffin with white silk lining, like a cherry in a basket.

The funeral home was decorated with swags of red satin and bouquets of red roses and the usual arrangements so popular in this area. The crimson horseshoe with the white phone in the middle that says, "Jesus Calls" and sprays of red mums and the blessed relief of babies breath were everywhere.

All of the mourners wore red. They gathered for the viewing and sat there praying with soft sobbing in the background. The preacher preached his sermon of redemption for one who went to Jesus so close to Easter. Then they all filed out to ride in the big limos back to the mountain.

From a distance in the cold mountain spring air, a swath of crimson was seen for as far as one could see. A small sea of crimson mourners stood in sharp contrast to the sea of spring green that was the big pasture. They laid her to rest in the small family graveyard with two centuries of her kin.

I know Jilly is very sad. It's so hard to lose your Momma. I think she should be proud she sent her Momma off with such style. It's not what most of us would do, but I find great beauty in it.

I think I might make a Red Velvet cake and take up to them. Or they maybe might be sick of that by now, so perhaps Wet Coconut.

With a red, red rose on the side.


  1. Jbeeky said...
    I think they would love a cake, no matter what. Cooking is one of the physical manifestations of care I love the most. You are a good neighbor and friend.
    Erica said...
    Man! Whatta read!.... I'm fanning myself here. Hey, did you ever see the movie "The Song Catcher?" Just 'cause how you write reminds me of it.
    Hayden said...
    beautifully written. Thank you again for offering a window into your world.
    johnieb said...
    Aw now hon! You just go ahead and put somethin red on it; I'm sure they'd all take it as a tribute (and rightly so) to mama.
    Dana said...
    I read this over on the Dew and loved it! Beautiful, beautiful prose.

    Where are you near the Smokies? My husband wants to move there when he retires. Hmph! can't get him to move to Alabama, yet he falls in love with The Smokies. I guess I don't blame him. Much. :)

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