IWF congratulates Senior Editor Charlotte Hays, coauthor with Gayden Metcalfe of the bestselling Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral. The following is an excerpt from the chapter entitled “Who Died? Stuffed Eggs, Etiquette, and Delta Pate.”
You don’t need a high-school diploma to know that there are nice and not-nice ways to talk about death. “If e-vuh anybody says somebody has passed away,” Olivia Morgan sternly admonished her girls, “look perplexed, roll your eyes, and say, ‘Was she playin’ bridge?” Nice people do not pass away. They die. Our ancestors have been dying for hundreds of years, and we plan to continue this tradition. It is an integral part of the Southern way of life. It is also one of the rare instances when we refuse to sugar coat.
Still, the Delta note-writer expresses herself delicately. You never say you’re writing because Uncle Willie keeled over dead when getting up for his third helping of fried chicken at the Rotary Club buffet; you are writing because Uncle Willie has been “lost.” A well wrought note of condolence would convey to the uninformed the impression that Uncle Willie has once again escaped his nurse and is still wandering around the Greenville mall with Alzheimer’s….
Notes are almost as important as food, and Southern mothers work hard to ensure that their children grow up able to write a good one. They know they will be judged on this. “Whenever somebody writes me a blah note, I say, ‘I bet her mother wasn’t a Southern girl,'” said Sally Morgan Gilliam.
Nobody wants to be talked about in that fashion. A note from a Southern girl never has a fill-in-the-blank feel. There is nothing generic about it. A Southern girl has to stop herself from gushing more than Old Faithful. If she is writing a thank-you note for a toaster, she doesn’t just say thank you. She tells you about every little ol’ thing she’s ever toasted in it or is likely to toast in it. In a sympathy note, she doesn’t say that Uncle Willie who has been lost will now be missed — she recalls the cute bow ties Uncle Willie always wore. She does not recall that he also had a cute mistress named Lorene.
Charlotte will be reading and signing copies of Being Dead Is No Excuse in Washington, DC, on May 23 at Olsson’s books, 418 7th Street NW.