Monday, January 31, 2011

The adventure, the experience. . .

I hope in the blogs below, I did a good job of capturing the experience that I shared with my friend, without encroaching on the private matter.

I've felt, many times, that there are some cultural differences between blacks and whites, and they often serve to show us how alike we are, not how different.

Much of my experience had as much to do with the Delta in the South - a place where you can still find a shanty of a house on a dirt road, with children playing in the dust up of a yard. It's the same house that has a DirecTV dish attached to the side. Somehow, the family can't afford a better home, but they have satellite t.v.

I hope my words captured some of the beauty of the service, and some of the humor, and some of the sorrow. Mississippi Highway 61 is a very long road, and this church could be anywhere along it. So I feel the family is quite anonymous in this aspect.

Should your life find you driving down an odd highway that has been there as long as the land has been called a State in the Union, keep your eyes open. There's no telling what you might see.


a poem taken from my church's bulletin this week, by Dorianne Laux

Someone spoke to me last night,
Told me the truth. Just a few words,
But I recognized it.
I knew I should make myself get up,
Write it down, but it was late,
And I was exhausted from working
All day in the garden, moving rocks.
Now, I remember only the flavor-
Not like food, sweet or sharp.
More like a fine powder, like dust.
And I wasn't elated or frightened,
But simply rapt, aware.
That's how it is sometimes -
God comes to your window,
All bright light and black wings,
And you're just too tired to open it.


The repass wasn't so new to me, as I was pretty sure it would be much like the way white people do it. The biggest difference is in the name. For white people in the South, or at least in the Delta, there is no one-word name to the event.

"There will be a meal at the church afterwards." If the deceased was a church member, it is probably held at their church. If not, then some significant family member's church may offer to host on behalf of their bereaved member. There's usually no shortage of ladies who take great pride in laying out all the food. Some of it may be gathered from relatives homes, other dishes delivered by church ladies who are on "the bereavement committee."

But, new to me, black culture has a word for the event: Repass.

In either case, this event is about LIFE, not death, where family and friends gather and share stories...they catch up with each other, they point to their significant others, they yell at their children to slow down running in the building, and they decide just what dish is worth breaking their diet.

I was one of two white Mike's, with another cousin who also chose to bring along a White Mike for the day. I think we both found it slightly humorous. His lady friend was as lovely as mine, though cut from a completely different cloth. And with a personality that would not be stopped. Formidable, strong, and hungry. I caught her at one point standing over a garbage can eating a ham hock with her fingers. I can't even tell you exactly what a hamhock is, but she had it. My lovely would laugh and tell me "She stood in line saying "I've got to have that hamhock!"

Fried chicken, chicken wings, a big pan of homemade cornbread dressing with chicken in it, baked macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, black eyed peas with pork and green beans in it, pork chops. . . just to name a few. One of the ladies working the table asked me, "Would you like anything else?" I replied, "Yes, ma'am. But I'm gonna come back after everyone else has come through." Because I had a plate full of fried chicken, dressing, black eyed peas and macaroni and cheese. I also had a saucer with yellow cake topped with caramel icing. It tasted handmade, but from a mix. And to me, that's fine too. I ate every bite and scraped up the caramel icing. *

Relatives hugged me. Me? As if I were one of them, gentlemen would hug me and thank me for coming. I suppose, for just that afternoon, I had been one of them. I had seen the beauty and mystery of their family, and briefly shared in their sorrow and their joy.

I pointed to a lady that I had determined was responsible for the preacher, and my Lovely went to speak to her about his use of the term "hooker."

"Oh," she said, "there were some hookers in the audience. He couldn't call them out, but he wanted them to know that he knew they are hookers."

We were both stunned.

She said that their aunt had asked for him specifically, and she just carried out the wishes, didn't judge them. She knew somewhat how he would be, by reputation, so she wasn't really surprised.

I told her that I wasn't surprised by the tone of the service, having grown up in the Delta, but I had been surprised by his use of the word hooker. I said, and pointed to Lovely, "She started shifting on her butt cheeks and I knew she was ticked off."

Family members were changing clothes, either close enough to home to have done it on the way, or changing for their inevitable drives home. Pictures were being taken. Women gathered at one table near the now-matriarch of the family. Men of a certain age gathered like a herd in another portion of the room. And in between groups clicked and pulled metal folding chairs and held babies . . . and went back for the hamhock. . . or in my case the real cheesecake.

It's a very natural order of life, not at all specific to blacks or whites. It's one of the things that defines us as humans, as all the same, even when we seem different. Life went on, just a few minutes later, it was all over, and life went on.

* I purposely spooned my dressing to get some of the golden brown crust. I love the crust portion, when done right. And this full of flavor, crunchy and moist. It was amazing.

Definition: Repass


Repass", or the gathering, occurs directly after the burial or burial ceremony has taken place. Sometimes held at the home of the family of the deceased, more often it is held at the deceased’s church or some other civic building if the deceased has no church affiliation.
This meal allows the family time to catch up on each other’s lives. While funeral services provide the more formal rites of death, the repass “demonstrates the continuity of life even in the face of death.”
Repass will be held in the basement of the church.
by next1up Jul 21, 2004 share this

from Urban Dictionary


Somewhere in the Delta, down Mississippi Highway 61, is a little town that is trying hard to keep itself clean and up, when it looks like it has become not so much a town anymore, but perhaps a residential neighborhood. . . nothing that looks like a business, or businesses anymore. The train depot, probably constantly busy 50 years ago, is a weather worn, boarded up wooden building. I caught a glimpse of it and yearned to find the owners and beg them to let me in, to let me walk through the small building and see if I could feel the rumble of the trains and hear the voices of passengers lost since forgotten.

We made our way following car after car to a gravel road, and in the year 2011, we passed shotgun shacks. . . weathered, looking very drafty and worn. . . crooked even on their foundations . . . with DirecTV dishes attached to the side. . . tiny porches. . . a truck and two men talking . . . and on one porch, 3 children playing. They stood as we drove by in the funeral procession, smiling and waving.

The lovely next to me said what I was thinking. "Its' 2011. Those children live in shacks."

Who would have thought? It was a surreal experience, driving past them in a rental car, down a dirt and gravel road, with them playing on a porch that was probably not six feet by two feet.

A church sat in the distance, looking for all the world as if it were abandoned. A cousin walking up told her that this was her Daddy's church, where he went as a child. I saw 3 tombstones, fairly new, sitting right by the gravel road. And then we walked across mud and stepped into a path cut through dead grass that stood 6 feet tall. The tractor was parked to the side in the grass, and all around us was dead, white grass six feet tall.

Approximately 20 feet in the view opened to a farm field, and an extra swath of grass cut down for the tent and chairs. Within 10 feet of the new gravesite was wrought iron, twisted and rusted, laying on the ground, almost unidentifiable, if not for the finial tops. A tiny tombstone laying down on the grass gave the date 1916.

I could not find signs of an organized grave yard. I wondered if there were other graves hid in the tall grass. It was the most . . . forlorn . . . lonely . . . plot I have seen. Things didn't seem to match - a baby's grave from 1916 next to a new plot from 2011. . . head high grass, next to a farm pasture, living people who would have been in sight of a church that seemed dead, if they could have seen the church for the too tall weeds.

She would later tell me that there is another portion of a cemetery on another side of the church, she, too, didn't understand this separated plot.

I wanted so hard to try and take pictures to capture the emotion of the grass, the church, the gray sky, and the children playing on the shanty of a porch. But even the thought of a picture seemed intrusive. And I feel my words fail at capturing the remoteness, the out of touchness of this place. Somehow lost in the time that the Delta should have moved past.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Service, The Eulogy

I wish I could remember the names of the songs, because in a lot of worship services, the songs create the service as much as any other part. The songs lay the foundation for the energy and mood of the service. What I discovered is music is layered into every aspect of the service, with the piano player and the preacher creating some type of symbiotic relationship where his every sentence is punctuated by musical tones. I couldn't help but find myself wondering if they practice this style of oration, or if there are some set rules that the preacher speaks in rhythm and the pianist punctuates them. I was fascinating to watch and listen. The preacher smoke in a Captain Kirk like rhythm, but with more ! and piano chords struck at the right intervals. It's hard to describe, but easy to understand, I think.

The programs are printed on larger paper than for a typical white person funeral in this area, more than just the one paper folded, and detailed as well. A color photo of the deceased adorns the front, and an inside page holds a collage of photos. Aside from the normal things to which I am accustomed, such as a reading of the survivors, a eulogy, and perhaps a congregational song or a solo, the itinerary includes a few extra items. The itinerary includes an acknowledgment to every card that has been sent from the family, a scheduled time for attendee's to be able to speak about the loved one (limit yourself to 3 minutes please), a moment for words of encouragement, and the name of the program leader, a sort of mistress of ceremony.

The mistress of ceremony welcomes everyone, speaks about the homegoing service, explains her connection to the loved one through friendship with several neices, and reads all the acknowledgements. . . and is just beginning the words of encouragement when she is interrupted by one of the preachers.

"I'm going to interrupt. I don't mean to be rude, but my name is on the program, so I can do that." My beautiful one next to me shifts in her seat. He then introduces another preacher sitting in the pulpit and asks him to give the words of encouragement. *

The entire service carries this tone, one of religious fervor, mixed with sorrow and joy, through solo performances and congregational songs. The words of the first pastor, when his time to give the eulogy comes, seem heavily laced with pomp and arrogance. His words seem more about him being heard, than the loved one being heard about. His words punctuated by the piano player seem an odd mixture of song and dance to one who has never experienced this first hand, only heard about it in lore and legend when elder white people would say they "went to a black funeral."

"My Moma always told me to be the best you can be" he said. "If you're going to be a liar, be a good liar. If you're gonna be a hooker, don't be a cheap hooker."

The beauty next to me shifts again and says in barely a whisper, "Did he just say hooker in my aunt's funeral?" Yes, he did. The rest of the eulogy carried on in this grandiose fashion, with the preacher not just behind the pulpit, but "on the stage" and performing. I tried to listen to his words, hoping for some message, but found myself overwhelmed by the theatrics of it all. A gentleman two pews ahead of us stood up, turned around and yelled, "Yaw aren't going to Heaven!" and sat back down, then a minute later repeated the action.

"Yaw aren't going to Heaven!" he admonished everyone from his pew on back, as if he deemed to know us all, or perhaps because he did not know us, we couldn't be on the "A list" for Heaven. I didn't take it personally. I had, after all, wanted this very experience. I kept my eyes and ears open, trying to absorb every detail, every moment, so that I could relive it again and again. I tried to determine the rhythm of the preacher's speech, and keep count with how many bizarre statements he made, tried to notice when he actually spoke about the deceased, and watched with wide eyed wonder at the frenzy that passed across the face of a lady in the choir loft, and a distinguished looking lady one pew behind me. **

And then, as quickly as it all rose to a fevered pitch, it was over. Relatives came to the front to gather the flowers and the coffin was led down the center aisle to the waiting hearse. The congregation flowed out in an orderly fashion.

Family gathered and hugged and made the way to cars for the procession to the burial a few more miles down Mississippi Highway 61.

*In society in general, I often find it odd when people excuse their rude actions by saying they don't mean to be rude. And I am displeased with myself when I do it too.

** She was quite lovely, with "good hair" that was an exquisite shade of grey, perfectly accented by a stylish black dress and coffee with cream colored skin.

The Church

The church looked line one of oh-so-many small country churches in the South. The sanctuary is a simple rectangle, with an anteroom on the front. It's often hard to tell if they were added as an after thought, or a porch that was closed in, or if they were part of the original design. But there always seems to be a main door that you enter, and then a surprise of another door into the sanctuary. They are always on a flat, concrete floor, with a raised dais at the far end for the pulpit, choir and baptismal font, which is usually so recessed and deep, it's more a bathtub than a font. I'm not good with eye balling distances, but let's say the rectangle is 100 feet deep by 50 feet wide. A center aisle with mirrored, long pews on both sides.

In this case, the side walls are lined with functional windows that will rise, covered in some type of colored film, giving an impression of stained glass where there is none. Large posters in simple frames proclaim the church's covenant and reader boards on the far back wall give the program for a standard Sunday service.

Having spent several years of my life attending a church built almost to the same specifications, one that I often thought seemed like a country church plopped in the middle of town, I am at home here, and out of place here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The journey begins

We pull up at her aunt's house in a little down in the Mississippi Delta that I'm familiar with, having grown up about 40 miles away. The police escort is waiting, cars are lined down the neighborhood, relatives in the dark blue suits and dresses are standing in the yard and coming and going out the door.

A man who is her cousin calls out her name as we get out, and she goes to him and he gives her a big, strong hug and says, "You've gotten thick."

I said, "Thick? You think this is thick?" He said, "I'll show you what I like" and calls out his wife's name. Skinny as a rail and high yellow she steps out of a crowd and waves. "I like 0 to 3." I begrudgingly later admitted to her that I like his looks, and finding out he's a fireman made him seem even a little hotter, but I'm still annoyed on her behalf by the "thick" comment.

A short visit in the house to hug the lady of the house and she spoke to an assortment of other female family members before we follow the procession down Highway 61 (of Blues music fame) to the church for the ceremony.

I'm still a little giddy about the prospect of attending a black funeral. But I'm very respectful, and I have a clean handkerchief ready. (And I'm bitter about him calling my friend "thick" even if he is a hot black man who also happens to be a fireman.)


I held her hand. We were sitting across from each other at the Cracker Barrell. She had driven quickly from an airport two hours away to get to the Cracker Barrel in time to eat. Thankfully their weekend hours are extended by an hour.

She was upset, and I was glad that I could be there for her, glad that I was there for her, and that over the next 24 hours I would be her constant companion.

I was struck again by her beauty. The complex mix of genes and possibilities had swirled themselves together into a creation that is simply beautiful. Mixed of two races, she somehow ended up with all the best of both. Shapely legs, a lovely butt, a torso and breasts that could not have been more perfect on a sculpture, and it all rises to a beautiful smile on a beautiful face, framed by what I have often called "good hair."

And always stylish. Always. She just had to order the chicken and dumplings. And we talked, and talked and talked. She would stay with me, and we would make the drive, slightly over an hour and a half in the morning, to a family home to begin the afternoon.

I took her hand and told her solemnly, truthfully, "I am so sorry for your loss. I'm glad I can be here for you." And then I told her what we both knew, "I am so excited to be going to a Black funeral I just can't stand it!"

Black Funeral

Having fought over the passenger seat or the back seat, my brother and I would be on our way to the pool for the afternoon when we would pass the church. At some point, it seemed a given that if there were cars there on a Saturday, it was a funeral.

There were a couple of things you knew about Black funerals in the South that were consistent until about 20 years ago.

- The deceased were "held" for a week. That gave relatives from far away places like Detroit and Chicago time to get here.

-The funeral would last "all day." Which could have, I suppose, been any time longer than the hour it took for most white people.

-Because of the length of the funeral program, you would occasionally see somebody out at their eating a snack. This was also true when the church held a revival.

-Funerals were always at the church, never in the so-called chapel of a funeral home. This was in direct contract the location of most white funerals in my home town, even when the deceased was a church goer.

-The energy level was rumored to be much higher in a black funeral. Whites were known to cry a bit, talk nice about the deceased, and often the preacher would try to "save" people if he were Baptist. Then it was over. Black funerals were rumored to have a lot of praise and singing and such as little Baptist boys had never experienced.

And so were the thoughts that went through my mind when I read the email from her, realizing she would travel from San Francisco to Delta in the South for the funera. "My aunt is being taken off a ventilator today. Will you go with me to the funeral?"

I wanted to be sad for her. I felt for her loss, I really did. I briefly wondered why she asked me, since she is an adult and would be within the comfort of her own family. Her fiance is a friend, but wouldn't be able to travel with her. But still, all those thoughts lasted barely 5 seconds before the exciting reality set in: I would be attending my first old school, in the Delta, Black funeral.

I called my co-worker and asked him if he would swap shifts with me, giving me the day off a week later. (Oh, but for the feel of perfect anticipation . . . they were "holding" her for a week!) A few hours later after consulting his girlfriend, he said yes. And I knew it would come to pass.

All the wondrous excitement, all the mystery, all the really good food at the family meal after, would very soon be opened up to me. All the great secrets would unfold, just like all the secrets of the history of the United States in the movie National Treasure, one by one I would know them. And afterwards, I would pile my plate high with real good food.

I could almost feel myself sitting on the genuine naugahyde seats of the 1976 Pontiac Ventura, passing by the little white church on Stringtown Road. I could feel the pinch of the vinyl and my towel over my legs on the way to the swimming pool. I could see the cars in grass surrounding the church. All those secrets would soon be shared with me.

And so, in the fullness of time, they were. . .


There was something about these legs that confused me. The black high heels, the shapely muscle tone, the short skirt pressed over a perfect bubbly butt rising up to a beautiful body. I couldn't decide if I wanted her, or wanted to be her. I spent the day with her, constantly reminded of just how beautiful she is.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Authorized Retailer

I've decided to post a few highlights of my employment at "I'm an Authorized Retailer for 'big name cell phone company."

Today's highlight is the two girls who came in the store wearing sleeper pants. They both had what looked like dirty hair, but could have just been some post 18 left over angst bad idea hair style, along with a fairly decent fragrance of cigarette smoke and attitude, which I would realize, about 24 hours was entwined with an upbringing from a white trash mom.

After a series of passing their cell phone back and forth from their Mom to me, who eventually gave her authorization, they decided on a phone, along with an attitude.

And less than 24 hours later? Brought it right back. I knew better than to deal with them.
Then there's the man who handed me go-phone, so mad that he had lost his ring tone, which he first neglected to tell me was dueling banjos. So first, I work to get it set again to the loudest volume. He's asking "How do they do that, loss a ring tone?" after telling me some relative of his had been playing with it. Really, some people just don't need to own a phone. So I hand it back to him, I've got it loud, and I call it. He steps back like I've slapped him and says, "THAT'S not my ring tone! It was dueling banjo's." OK, old man. That would have been helpful to have known. So I take another minute to find it and set the ring tone for him.


Then there's the lady that walked in with two identicl phones in her hands and said to me, in a very dismissive tone like she was speaking towards me, not to or with me, "I'm going to leave these two here."

Me: "OK. Why?"

Her: "I need the contacts moved over."

Me: "OK, I'll be glad to check the SIM card and move them over."

Her: "No, some are on the SIM card. I need them all moved over."

Me: "Ma'am, I don't have a way to . . . " and in my mind, I know what this beotch wants. . . "to move them all over if the SIM card is full."

Her: "I have left phones here before and they did it for me."

Here's where I repeat myself in a nice tone of voice, "I don't know how they did it. If the SIM card is full, I can't move anymore."

Her: "You mean I can't leave it here?"

And in my mind, I'm thinking, "Leave your two cheap, free, phones purchased over the internet here for me to spend my work day trying to type in, one at a time, all your contacts?"

and I repeat it. Really lady? Really? Like that's what I get paid to do?

Can't forget the customer who came in and told me her son had his phone stolen, but found it, and the back and battery were missing. I told her i was sorry, but we didn't have replacement backs. I may or may not have a battery, and they run about $40.

Her: "I was hoping you could just give me another one."

Me: "No, ma'am. I'm sorry. The phones come back with just one back and battery. So I give you one out of another box, I wouldn't be able to sell it."

Her: "I know, but I was hoping you would."


"Or maybe you could give me the back off this phone?" pointing to the display.

Me: "Those are dummy phones, the backs usually don't come off. Even if they did, I couldn't give it to you because then I wouldn't have a way to display the phone."

Her: "I was hoping you would, though." This went back and forth, each of us repeating the same thing to each other, 5 times. Like it was a test to see how many times can I say, "Ma'am, I can not give you a phone back and battery from another phone because then I would not be able to sell that phone."


He was young and blonde and beautiful, like boys around the age of 18 should be. In his case, the beautiful was of a type with some sort of styled hair, and possibly just a little too skinny, a slightly mischevious look in his eye. I had spotted him across the room, busy waiting on tables and cleaning tables, and I thought he was probably gay. I mean, with that much style in his hair, the odds were good. But then I had dismissed him from my thoughts.

Later, while my good friend and I have finished our dinner and are milling through the gift shop portion of Cracker Barrel, he's walking in my direction. Since we're near the restrooms, I figured he was headed that way. But he was looking at me and smiling at me. In the few seconds he was headed towards the restroom, he never lost eye contact with me and was just smiling.

Just as I was forming the thought in my head, "Young man, that's nice of you to flirt with me, but you should go find yourself someone your own age. . . " he came around a huge display of candy and . . . . held my phone up like Vanna White turning a letter on TV.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

It made me feel young again.

I know that sounds corny, but it did. It made me feel all excited inside.

Me and MyFella had just walked in a store and MyFella said, "That guy just winked at me." I said, "Who, the guy in camo or the employee?"

MyFella, "The guy in camo."

So MyFella walked off to shop and I hovered near the front just to see what the fella looked like. As he finished checking out, he picked up his bag, looked towards me, winked and walked out.

I rode that excitement for about an hour.