I’ve been pretty much sucking for a while on the blog. Most of it has to do with the fact that work has been INSANE the past couple of months, but the rest of it has to do with what I’ve used my free time for.

First, yes, I’ve been reading books – but I need to write reviews to post!

Second, I’ve been prepping something very special. I’ve edited (yeah, didn’t purchase editing, so don’t expect much), formatted, and re-done the cover for AMERICAN CHIMERA.

If you recall, I published American Chimera here on the site in 2020. It came out serially, and a few people read it. I’m terrible at advertising, so it’s not like I got it out to the world. Berthold Gambrel’s review of the book encouraged me a lot, as did a few emails I received from people who read it.

One thing I learned, though, was that a sketchy PDF download on a random site isn’t very attractive. A bunch of links on a website to get you to and from chapters and scenes isn’t very simple to use or find where you left off (unless you read it real time, which a few people did!). Others said they’d read it if it weren’t so hard to manage; reading should be easy, after all!

A Kindle book or an Amazon printed paperback is extremely easy for people to access. The problem? I think Bezos is a POS and I don’t want to fund him. It’s why I didn’t put it on Amazon in the first place.

However, I’ve decided it’s time to bite the bullet and use the system that’s more accessible for people. I’ve published quite a few short stories, and more are coming out soon. People may read one of my shorts, decide they want more, and be unable to find something else.

And, at least for now, Bezos won’t be getting your money for the ebook! He’ll only be getting a smattering of cash if you order a paperback! That free, free pricing won’t remain the case forever, probably. I think at some point, people treasure books that aren’t free, but free books are just garbage. I want to keep it free until I think my friends have gotten it, but then I might give it a price.

As a warning, I will be taking down my PDF copy and getting rid of the posts by June 5th! This is because Amazon doesn’t like competing, and I’m pretty sure it’s in the contract (for the free barcodes and ISBNs, anyway) that I can’t have the book appear other places. If you want to get the PDF or read the posts, do it before then! I’ll let you know when the Amazon publish date is once I get my proof copy and am sure everything’s working out.

Cheers, and hope you enjoy the product if you’re interested.

Reading List – June 2020

Everyone knows that I’m a southerner deep down (and on the surface). This month, as summer flares up, I’m reading a collection of Southern works to get that hot blood pumping.

Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell


Last year, I counted up some of the books on Amazon’s 100 books to read before you die. This book was on there, and I was like, “AAAGH, HOW CAN I CALL MYSELF SOUTHERN I HAVEN’T READ IT.” So I dedicated some time to get this book read. I need to imbibe the controversial portrayals and understand why this book (and movie!) are so damn important.

Warning: The current Amazon cover is pretty terrible, so any pictures you see aren’t the ones you’ll get if you search it on Ye Olde but Infinite Book Site. Just wanted to warn you.

The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead


I know that Gone With the Wind has some really questionable portrayals of slavery in it. I also know that the other book on this list is about white people, and I think it such a travesty that Southern or American often conjures images of whites in people’s heads. With that in mind, I selected a book written by and focusing on a person of color. It contains elements of magical realism and is extremely well-recommended by a horde of people out there. I’m hoping this book, from a different perspective than that in Gone With the Wind, will add elements of flavor and excitement to this month.

The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner


I’ve only read Faulkner’s short story A Rose for Emily before and have never ventured into his more substantial works. A Rose happens to be one of the most influential works on my writing, and I have long found it an absolute travesty that I’ve never tried to read more of Faulkner’s work. So here’s to rectifying that mistake and to learning more about an author I’ve wanted to delve into several times before.

The Leftovers: A Bonus Review!?

This is a 5-Monday month, so stay tuned for an end-of-the-month mystery post!

See my old reviews here

American Chimera – 1.5

American Chimera Cover Small

“And what then?” the interrogator asked. “What did the vet say?”

Brett pointed ot the ground. “Chaw first. You get my chips and Pepsi out here, or I will shut my mouth tighter than a snappin’ turtle in a lightnin’ storm.”

The interrogator stood from her chair. “Your chips and Pepsi are on their way. Tell me what the vet said, Mr. Huffman.”

He turned up his nose at the interrogator and swiveled his head to watch the door. In the middle of the door was a slot that could be opened from the outside, a small table hanging from the door just underneath. An exit sign glowed a faint red in the dim room and reflected faintly off the metal walls. Lights hung from the ceiling, most of them off during the interrogation.

The interrogator cleared her throat and put a hand to Brett’s shoulder. “How did Mrs. Huffman decide to keep the spider so quickly? How did you decide what to do with it next?”

The slot on the door opened, and a hand placed an open glass bottle with a bag of chips next to it. Brett looked up to the interrogator, who let go of his shoulder and nodded to the gift with knowing eyes.

He stood from the chair, exaggerating the pain with which he stood, then hobbled over to the door. The interrogator noticed the thick skin on his fingers, the layers of sunburn that had built up the scabs and markings on the back of his neck. The man reached a shaking hand down to the chips and ripped open the top.

“Mr. Huffman, are you going to talk?”

He took a swig and coughed. “Oh hell no. Ain’t givin’ you nothin.”’ He took another sip and chewed some of the peanuts that came out with the drink. “I asked for Pepsi, and sure ’nuff you got me a Coke. Good faith my ass.” He sat down next to the door. “Take me back to my cell. ’Less I get what I ask for, you ain’t gettin’ nothin’ else outta me.”

The interrogator let her shoulders drop. “You’ve done well today, I suppose, and I’ll have plenty of time to talk with you later.” She tapped a few buttons on her tablet. “I’ll grant your request. You’ll have to learn to trust me better, Mr. Huffman.”

He laughed openly and tossed the empty bottle to the side. “Trust you? A colored Yank woman from the gov’ment who’s got me in jail for no reason at all?” He giggled and stood, offering his bonds as a means of control. “Sorry, ma’am, but there’s no way I’ll ever trust you.”

She put her hands behind her back as the door opened, a couple large guards taking hold of Mr. Huffman’s shoulders and dragged him out of the room.


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Front Porch Sittin’

working-template-for-ff-challenges95Master’s shaded
By colonnades.
I pour sweet tea
And lemonade.

But just last night
My mama crept
From field slave house
To where I slept.

“Take this,” she said,
Offering a bag.
Inside was a hex
Cast on heart of stag.

“Hush honeychild,”
My mother cried.
“Crush this heart and
Your daddy’ll die.”

I pour the tea
In nice tall glass.
I think about
What mama asked.

Master sits in
Colonnade’s shade
Beckons me stay
For ‘work’ unpaid.

I squeeze the heart.
From shady spot
My master drops
To Hell so hot.


This is a first – I wrote a poem for the Carrot Ranch Challenge for January 17th, Colonnades.  I must say that, as a Southerner, I simply had to go this route.  If you’re interested in more tales that look at the peculiar evils of the South, check out The Dark Netizen’s ‘Pillars.’

Brown Mountain

Recent floods had stopped the trains from winding through the mountains, and Stewart took advantage of this darkness to investigate the Brown Mountain lights.

Lights glinted ahead.  They didn’t flicker like a lantern or candle, but this region wasn’t lit by electricity.  Stewart picked up his pace.

The massive, golden source became more apparent as he closed in on it.  He noticed the light streamed from an open doorway, and a queue of skeletal figures entering.  The ghosts ventured forth with smiles, and Stewart felt no inclination to stop them.

He reported on the haunting, “Lights caused by trains.”


This was written for the November 1st Flash Fiction Challenge on the Carrot Range.  I wrote about the Brown Mountain Lights, a set of ghost lights found in the mountains of North Carolina, and kind of meshed it with the idea of the day of the dead.  

I get the feeling that I’m still stuck on writing for Halloween!


cabin covered by snow

My fingers felt cold against the window, the frost on the other side of the pane nipping against my skin.  Quickly I pulled the fingers back, not enjoying the feeling of my skin freezing against the glass.  Gaunt and tired, I saw my reflection in the window shining translucent in the candle light.

“Why are you here?” she asked.

I jumped back and yelped at the reflection’s words.  I wrung my hands together, warming the cold fingers as she stared at me intently, curiously, strangely.  “Why are you here?” I replied, watching her intently and seeing her hands work to warm themselves as well.

The girl crumbled into a ball next to the reflection of the empty fireplace, staring at me with scared face.  “I’m cold.  When is Daddy getting home with the wood?”

“I’m cold,” I somberly agreed, laying down by my fireplace.  “When is Daddy getting home with the wood?”

I watched as the little girl nodded.  “At least I’m not alone.”  Her eyes closed, her thin and gaunt face becoming pale as she lay there.

I stayed where I was, next to the empty fireplace, watching her, waiting silently to see if the reflection in the window pane ever moved again.

The Preacher’s Wife


Preacher Jackson was pretty popular round the community.  He was a farmer during the week and spouted hellfire and brimstone on Sundays, and almost every Sunday was invited over to someone’s house for lunch.

His wife, Miz Annie, was always quite the guest.  Never content with being treated, the woman would always pack a cooler of deviled eggs or a passel of beans.  People would sometimes wonder if it wasn’t her food and hospitality that brought more people to Jesus than her husband’s exhortations.

That made it all the harder for the entire community when she came down with the cancer.

The doctor’s office was far away, and even Miz Annie would admit she’d hidden the condition for longer than was good for her.  It didn’t take long before she became bedridden and the death watches began.

When it was clear the last moments were near, Miz Annie took Preacher Jackson by the hand.  Her skin was thin as paper and her face pale as a sheet.  She’d not gone through radiation or chemo, so her hair was still present and her mind still very much intact.  “I won’t leave you,” she said.  “I won’t leave you ’til you leave me.”

Preacher Jackson shook his head.  “I love you.  I wouldn’t leave you for anything.”

And so he stayed by her side, only leaving for bathroom breaks and the barest requirements.  Ladies at the church brought by food to sustain him (Miz Annie wasn’t eating anymore).  Preacher Jackson’s and Miz Annie’s three children tried to get him to sleep in his own bed, but he refused and insisted on the small chair next to the deathbed.

She slipped in and out of comas, and her breathing slowed.  Preacher Jackson’s fingers were on her neck, feeling for a heartbeat, about as often as they were wrapped around her hands in the hope she’d wake up again.

At last, while Miz Annie’s friends Miz Kathleen and Mama Grace were visiting, Preacher Jackson stood to take his leave.  He wasn’t a spring chicken, and he still had to do the duties of a living man.

Right when he was zipping his fly and preparing to return to her bedside, he heard gasps and sobs coming from the bedroom.  He barely washed his hands and completely failed to dry them before he rushed back.

Miz Kathleen and Mama Grace were holding each other’s hands, stunned while tears and short sobs ran down their face.  Preacher Jackson tumbled past them and put his hand to his wife’s, finding it still warm but completely still.  A touch to her frail neck told him what he feared most – she’d gone while he’d left.

At long last, Miz Kathleen put a hand to his shoulder.  “It was beautiful,” she said, “It was… I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“We saw the spirit leavin’ her,” Mama Grace added.  “It was like a white dove, and it flew out the window.  You should’ve been here, Preacher.”

Preacher Jackson wept on her bedside.  She’d gone, left, without him there to see her off.  She’d done just as she promised.  Had he stayed too long?  Had he made her suffer by his side?

With Preacher Jackson beside himself, Miz Kathleen and Mama Grace called around to start the wake.  They curled Miz Annie’s hair and slathered her dead face with make up so she’d look natural.  Preacher Jackson’s house soon became a pit of food and filled with reverent, gloomy worshippers that wanted to see the body of a woman so certain to be a saint.

The next day they put her in the ground and covered her grave with flowers and polypropylene ribbons.  It was rare for such a showing to be seen for anyone, man or woman.

It took a long time for Preacher Jackson to return to the pulpit.  But when he did, the fire didn’t burn as hot, and the brimstone wasn’t so painful.  It may have been Mama Grace and Miz Kathleen that saw the miracle, but he understood God’s message.  Up until now his official title meant he showed people how to get to heaven, but her flight from her body was proof she’d known the path better anyway.


If you’ve read my garbage for a while, you might remember Mama Grace showing up before.  I’ve kept her in mind since publishing that because someone commented that they found her complex and interesting.  This story is based off one she told me when I was little.  In fact, it was so long ago that she told it to me that my descriptions are surely not quite to the exacting standards they should be.  As such, I took a few liberties by keeping Mama Grace as the only real-life character and making up the situation surrounding what I do remember. 

What I know is true is that she was tending to a dying woman once (a preacher’s wife), and she swore that she saw the spirit leave the body like a dove, reminiscent of when the spirit came upon Jesus after baptism.  I’m not sure if people believed her or not, and I’m afraid to ask around in case no one else remembers this tale. 

The Wake


Little Billy loved when people died.

Not because he didn’t like them, nor because he was some sort of necrophiliac.  No, Little Billy loved the parties.

Great Aunt Margaret, a lady so old he never really remembered her or got to visit much, finally kicked the bucket.  When the long-expected phone call came, Mama tightened the bowtie on his suit, forced him to shine his shoes, and plopped him in the backseat of the car.

“Here,” Mama told him, “Hold this.  We got to get over to Uncle Jake’s and Aunt Margaret’s.”  She handed over a plate of deviled eggs, and Little Billy held tight to the plastic wrap around the edges.  Mama wouldn’t be pleased if he let her beautifully piped eggs get messed up.

Daddy drove them across the county to Aunt Margaret and Uncle Jake’s house.  Though Uncle Jake had died years ago – Billy could still remember the butterscotch pies at that fantastic to-do – everyone still called it his house.

When Billy arrived, it smelled the same as all the other wakes he’d been forced to attend.  He found the air heavy with cheap ladies’ perfume and cigarette smoke.  A couple coughs and a wipe of his eyes, though, and he could see through the folds of skirts and suit jackets to the kitchen.

Billy took a Chinet plate from the line and scooted it down the buffet.  He added a grape-jelly meatball here, a roll there, some chicken pot pie (true funeral food, and far more than a six year old would ever eat).  He loaded up the remainder of the plate with a nice helping of pies and puddings, then went to mill around with the older relatives.

“Oh, Little Billy,” his Aunt Jennifer cheerfully squealed.  “You gonna eat your desserts first, are you?”

He nodded and took a big bite of meringue.  “Yes’m.”

“Watch out you don’t get a stomachache!”

Little Billy smiled, but Aunt Jennifer wasn’t Mama or Daddy, so he didn’t have to do what she said.  He ate a bite of coconut cake, finding it moist and delightful.

When his stomach got too full, he scooted around the house and hid his still hefty plate next to a plastic Country Crock bucket and a sewing machine.  He’d come get it later.

“Little Billy!” his Mama said with a scowl.  “Where’d you run off to?  You go pay your Great Aunt Margaret your respects before I tan your dog hide.”  She grabbed him by the upper arm and tugged him through the kitchen, taking time to grab a napkin from the food line and wipe his dirty face.  “You better learn not to act like that in public, y’hear?”

“Aww, Mama, I was just havin’ fun.”

“Ain’t no one havin’ fun.  This is a viewin’, not a party.”

Little Billy held his breath.  He knew what the payment for the rest of the fun times at a wake was, and he didn’t really like it.  But he had come and ate Aunt Margaret’s food, so he supposed it only right.

He went with Mama and Daddy into the cold, still sitting room at the front of the house.  An old woman was laid out on a bed, her eyes closed and arms crossed over her chest serenely.  Little Billy gulped when they got closer, now noticing the weird makeup and inhumanly long eyelashes.

His Mama sighed and looked to a woman Little Billy didn’t know.  “She looks so natural.”

“Oh, yes.  Been done by the funeral home.  They did such a nice job, didn’t they?”

Daddy coughed.  “Oh, definitely.  It’s like she’s just sleepin’ there, ’bout to wake up any second.”

“So nice.  It’s great that they have such good make-up for funerals now…”

While the grown-ups talked behind him, Billy got a little closer to the corpse.  He’d not known Aunt Margaret very well when she was alive, so this viewing didn’t give him the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach like all the others had.  He put his elbows on the side of the bed and leaned forward, wondering morbidly what it meant to die.

He jerked back when one of Aunt Margaret’s eyes opened.  “You get some of that pie you love, boy?”

His mouth opened wide, and Little Billy looked to his parents, still lost in conversation with the living.  He gulped and returned his gaze to Aunt Margaret.  “Yes, ma’am.”

“You better eat all of it.  Don’t want your sticky food getting all over my good sewing supplies, y’hear?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Go get that plate and eat all of that food, even if you get sick.  Shouldn’t have been allowed to run around like a haint in the first place… what’s this world coming to?  Kids these days.”  Her head returned to the restful position and her eyes closed.

Little Billy took off at a dash back to his plate.  He sat down beneath the hall table and and started shoving the food down, swallowing as fast as he could.  He made sure to finish every bite of pie, even the dull, soggy crust that he would have normally left behind.  He forced down some of the chicken pot pie.

His parents came after him, angry scowls on their faces.  “William Elliot Harper!  That was incredibly rude!  You put that down and go right back in there-”

But Little Billy shook his head and plunged ahead into the mashed potatoes.  “No!  Aunt Margaret told me to do this!”

His parents took away the plate, placing it next to the butter tub for the time being, and bodily dragged Billy back to the viewing room.  While they made apologies for him, he stared at the dead old lady.

His mom shook his hand gruffly.  “Apologize to your Aunt.  Her mama just died, and you can’t go runnin’ round like you ain’t got no manners!”

Billy stared at Aunt Margaret.  “I’m sorry,” he said without looking up at the living woman.  He waited for Great Aunt Margaret’s face to turn toward him.

After a few more moments, Daddy tugged him away from the room.  Billy kept his eyes peeled on the corpse – for a brief moment, he thought he saw Aunt Margaret smile wickedly and laugh.

The Embalmists

“Disgusting, heathen practice.  They’re goin’ straight to hell.”  Clive bit into the muddy hard tack and pulled off a piece of the flavorless hunk of bread.  Everyone else dipped theirs in coffee to soften it first, but Clive had a bone to pick.

Johnny rubbed his hand over his fuzzy chin, fancying himself a much older and wiser man than the 16-year-old kid he really was.  “What you reckon they do it for?  Gotta be somethin’ in it for ’em.”

Hiram, a grisly 23-year old who’d been in the Army of Northern Virginia since 1861, poured a touch of a clear liquid into his coffee cup. He leaned over the campfire, and the light bounced threateningly about his sallow face.  “It’s ’cause they’s in league with the devil hisself.  I seen with my own eyes what they done.  Like Ezekiel, but God sure as shootin’ ain’t in it.”  He spat on the ground.  “If y’alld hush, I’ll tell y’all what I know…”


I was a new soldier.  Everyone thought the war would be fast, that we’d go home before the biscuits got cold, but they were wrong.  Satan laughs at our folly, and he probably drank the hatred in the rivers of blood.  Don’t y’all dare make the mistake and believe that our blood is cleaner than theirs.  It’s all red, all spilled for something none of us care about.

Most of you have seen a few battles.  You’ll remember the gunshots, the blood, the haunting faces that look at you as they die – both gray and blue – but you take a look-see at some of them Union boys next time, assumin’ the typhoid don’t getcha first.

I don’t remember ‘xactly what battle it was that the embalmists moved in.  They set up shop in a tent to the north, what with a big sign on the door and everthin.  Boy up yonder with the telescope seen it first, and I was still bright eyed enough that I wanted a peek.

But when I looked, I seen somethin’ weird.  Corpses – sometimes just pieces of bodies – would be brought into the embalmist’s shop.  I saw half as many corpses come back out.

I told my officer.  He thought I was crazy, but it was a lull in the battle, and it ain’t like a human life is worth much these days.  He let me take off behind enemy lines, sneakin’ round and figgerin’ up what I saw.  I could look after my embalmist’s ways, but I had to bring back some ideas on what the enemy movement was, too.

I suited up in blue.  Their uniform’s easy enough to come by.  I kep my mouth shut and walked right through their camp without as much as a sideways glance.  It still makes me shiver to think I look so much a Yank.

Anyway, I come up on the embalmist’s tent.  It’d grown since the first time I’d seen it. There were a pile of bodies just outside, and the doctors had nurses what come in and out on a regular basis.

One of the ladies spotted me, so she picked up her skirts and come over.  “One of your friends here?” she asked.  “I got all the paper work, if you want me to find him.  I just can’t have you skulking around so.”  Her Yankee words rung round in my brain a few seconds, stingin’ my thoughts with their harshness.

“No ma’am,” I said in my best Yankee imitation.  “I just never heard of this kind of place afore.  What you do here?”

She lifted a brow then crossed her arms.   “We’re helping our boys in blue get back home.”

“I don’t reckon I much care ’bout that,” I said, “But this place seems a mite weird.”

“I can take you in.  Show you what we do.”  She brazenly took me by the wrist and pulled me towards the embalmist’s tent.  “It’ll be an eye-opener.”   I follered without much thought.   The lady’s hands were sweet and purty, and I couldn’t stand the thoughts of breakin’ such a beautiful, fragile flower.

The tent smelled funny, like nothin’ I smelled afore.  It got stronger when I entered under the flap, but I didn’t ask about it.  Jars full of clear liquid hung from rafters in the tent, and lines ran down to hordes of corpses that covered dozens of cots all down the rows.  “Mercy sakes alive.”

She pointed to the only living man in the hospital as he stooped over one of the Yankee corpses.  “There.  He’s putting the fluid in that man’s body so the remains can be shipped back to New York.  The fluid has arsenic and kills everything it touches, so none of the bugs that eat bodies can make them rot.  Think of what a relief that must be for the poor young man’s family.”

I thought of all my friends who’d been killed.  They’d had no wake, no funeral, just been chucked in the ground often in unmarked graves so they wouldn’t rot and make such a stink.

“You’d like to get back home to your family too, wouldn’t you?  I mean, even you Southern boys must like that.”

“I ain’t no-”

“You are, and you’re a terrible spy.  But I don’t mind.  Me and the dead don’t see a problem with your interest.  You’re just another customer base.”  She snapped her fingers and waltzed alluringly as she went deeper into the tent.  At a certain bed she stopped, looked at the fluid level in a heavily-labeled glass bottle, and tapped the cheeks of a Yankee full of gunshot holes.  “Get up.  I need your bed.”

The dead man – dead, no life in his eyes at all – sat up without a breath.

“Lord have mercy!” I shouted.

A few other heads, both on tables and on the nurses, turned to look at me.

I started to run, but I realized that outside the tent I’d be killed by living men just as surely as the dead ones’d get me in here!

The nurse unhooked the needles from the naked corpse’s arms and legs then brushed off the table beneath him.  The dead Yank reached for a bloody uniform under the bed and started pulling on the trousers and shell jacket.

The nurse held up a needle.  “Like I asked earlier… you want to make it back home, don’t you?”  She smiled, her strangely white teeth glinting like dog’s fangs.  “Come on.  Sit a spell,” she said with sweet, Carolina tones.

I shook my head and started to back away, but one of the dead Yanks grabbed me by the leg.  His fingers were tight with rigor mortis.

“Don’t come adder me, you witch!”  I pushed off the one Yank, but several others got up from their beds to try and stop me.  Other nurses exchanged the fluid lines on their dead patients, and the doctor watched with ravenous excitement.  I remember the look on his face when…

Never mind that.  Eventually, I realized I needed to escape.  I punched the witch square in the face.  I know it ain’t right to hit a lady, but I was desperate.  I couldn’t do much of nothin’ to the Yanks, so I had to go straight to the source.

For all her misbegotten demons, it was like a punch to the gut.  I had to take my chance to escape, so I didn’t let my aches or the grabbing of the Yanks keep me down.  I stole several bottles of the magic liquid, hopin’ to bring a few pints with me to the Captain and prove what I’d seen.  I ran right outta that tent and through the God-forsaken Yankee encampment as fast as I could.

If they’s raisin’ their dead, ain’t nothin’ we can do to win.  Ain’t nothin’ you can do to kill a dead man.


Johnny, eyes bright and wide, leaned closer to the fire.  “And did the Captain believe you?”

“Yes.  But he was wise, and he knew no one else would.  Turns out the bottles were just full of arsenic, ‘corddin to our doctors.”  Hiram swallowed the rest of his coffee and put the closed bottle of liquid into his cup, then wrapped both carefully in a hemp sack.

Clive pointed at the practice.  “What you got there?  Moonshine, right?”

“You cain’t read the labels, I take it?”

Clive shook his head no.

“Prolly better that way.”  Hiram stood and stretched, his gaunt face frightening in the campfire, his eyes glinting like a demon.  “See y’all tomorrow.”

Dying With Taste – Southern Funeral Traditions

Tomorrow, I’m posting a story – the first of a series of unconnected tales – about dying in the South.  I was inspired to write that fantasy after a really strange, really interesting Sunday School lesson.

(Edit: Here are the four stories – The EmbalmistsThe Funeral Ribbon QuiltThe WakeThe Preacher’s Wife -)

On August 13th, my church had a speaker from the North Carolina Museum of History come to talk about Southern funeral traditions.  The speaker focused on the tradition of the funeral ribbon quilt, which I’ll include in this little snippit of an article, but other Southern funerary traditions found their way into the talk.  Most of the information presented here came from that lesson.

If you have access, you can read the paper here:

Bell-Kite, Diana.  Memorials of Satin: Funeral Ribbon Quilts in Context.  Uncoverings.  Volume 37, pp. 41-74.  2016.

Embalming and Cremation – Sins That Weaved Their Way In

The first story, the one that comes out tomorrow, speaks about the practice of embalming.  Though invented in the 1700’s as a method to preserve organ specimens for scientific study, popularization of embalming as a means of corpse preservation occurred during the Civil War.  Union soldiers with rich enough families would pay a battlefield undertaker to embalm their dead relative so that the corpse could be transported back home instead of buried on site.

100Once the war was over, the Northerners kept the tradition of embalming and started commercializing death.  Instead of handling a funeral in their home, they would outsource the work to the local funeral directors.  Cremation became an acceptable means of disposing the body due to cost, location, and other restrictions more common in the urbanizing North.

Back in the south, those luxuries were unaffordable.  Association with the North, those evil ragamuffins, served to make them seem evil.  After getting out of church on Sunday, I called my mom and talked to her about what I’d learned.  She audibly shuddered and said, “Cremation’s awful.  Everyone says you go to hell if you get cremated.”  She paused a minute while she thought on it a little more.  “It’s something from up North.  They don’t care about goin’ to hell as much up there.”

“Full of sinners?” I asked.

“Yeah, I reckon.”

That being said, both practices are making their way into the unique and customized traditions of the south.  Some people are even requesting cremation so they can be interred in their favorite mayonnaise jars.

The Wake

The Southern Wake is something I’ve never experienced but have known about.  Though embalming is now a legal requirement in most states, even those down here, the wake was a tradition in which the body rested in the house for the night (two, tops).  The family and those close to the deceased would keep a vigil, staying up through the night with alternating celebration and mourning.  People bring food for the bereaved to enjoy and help ease the moment.

Mr. Bill, one of the most outgoing and personable human beings at the church I attend, had something to say after Sunday School was done.

“I ‘member when Mama and Daddy used to take me to the old-style funerals.  They had all kind of food and it was the greatest.  I loved it.”

The wake preceded a long funerary service at the church, which is usually where I started my experiences with Southern Funerals.  At the church you enjoy even more food, listen to multiple hours of sermon, then the deceased are buried.  From death to dirt, it takes about a day.

Because I grew up in a poor, rural area of the south, the old-style funeral is the only one I’ve experienced.  People would bring an absolute trove of goodies to assuage the bereaved family members and throw a bit of a party.  You could bet there’d be banana pudding and deviled eggs.  Regional trends would determine exactly what kind of food appeared, but there’d always be plenty of it.

Flowers Of a Particular Kind (And Their Ribbons)

sweet-thought-standing-sprayA tradition killed by the recession, Southern funeral bouquets were a major part of dying.  Florists were able to equate the purchase of flowers with a moral obligation, and Southerners bought this line without question.  The more flowers a deceased party had at their funeral, the more well-loved and popular they had obviously been.  To not give flowers would be considered a grave (pun, get it) insult.

The subject of the talk in Sunday School was an offshoot of this practice.  In order to cheapen bouquets and ensure adequate flower supply, florists would tie in long, satin-acetate bows.  Southern ladies would take the bows off the flowers and sew them into a quilt.  The tradition of the funeral ribbon quilt died when the material for these bows changed from the satin-acetate to the weather-resistant polypropylene (short part of the story).

The practice of giving copious flowers at a Southern funeral still remained in many areas, at least the one I grew up in, until the Great Recession.  I remember the piles and piles of flowers at the funerals I’ve been to.  Once the Recession hit, though, people stopped being able to afford such frippery.  In the 10 years since the market crashed, I think the last vestiges of the floral funeral may have finally ended.  A few people remain who will insist on dying the old way, but the more modest and practical funeral of the North seems to have taken over.

Lord have mercy on us all.