Respect and pride ride with funeral processions

Fri, Nov 19, 2004

The line of traffic edged along painfully slow and I, in a hurry as always, tapped the steering wheel anxiously and craned my neck to see what the holdup was. When finally I figured it out, I relaxed and settled back in the seat. Like the faithful Southerner I am, I considered it my duty to be a reverent participant in the event.

Warmth and pride trickled steadily across my body as I glanced to the other side of the highway to see the multitude of cars that had pulled over while their drivers interrupted their travel and busy schedules to pay respect to someone that, in all likelihood, they had never known. Pulling over for funeral processions is a purely Southern tradition. Other regions don’t do it, nor, as far as I can tell, do they want to do it. It is the one cultural tradition I have found myself explaining over and over to transplants who are puzzled and, in several instances, irritated by it.

"It is ridiculous!" I recall one hot-tempered young woman saying as she stormed in late to a meeting. She had been born and raised in another region then moved to the South when her parents decided to retire to the coastal area. I and the other Southerners attempted to proudly explain the respect and courtesy that goes with the gesture. She poked her lower lip out and rolled her eyes. Someone pointed out that when she died, she would be given the same pomp and circumstance.

"Oh puh-leaze!" She flung her arms upward. "Don’t bother! I wouldn’t want to be the reason that someone else is late for a meeting. I’m more considerate than that."

I folded my arms, tilted my head and smiled sweetly in the way that a diva does just before she lowers the boom. "You know what we could do just for you?" I asked slyly. "We could ask the funeral director to have a car drive in front of the hearse with a big sign that says, ‘Don’t stop! Yankee in tow.’"

She was the only one in the room who didn’t laugh.

I then thought of my daddy and the funeral procession that had taken him to the church and to his final resting place. I remembered clearly how it felt as we sat in the back of the black limousine and watched the solemn homage that others — mostly strangers — paid to his life and our grief. For a few moments, it had dried our tears and warmed our aching hearts.

I shall never forget, though, the sight I saw the other afternoon as I followed that particular funeral procession. We passed a house where several men were hard at work, replacing the roof. One by one, they laid down their hammers, stood to their feet, removed their billed caps and laid them across their hearts.

Thank God, I thought to myself, that I was born — and I certainly plan to die — in a land of people like that.

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