What got me thinking about this was the recent anniversary of my grandfather's death and subsequent funeral. In order to understand the events that transpired, you have to understand that my grandfather was a southern boy himself. And one of his favorite things in the whole world was country ham. Whenever our cousin would come up for a visit, he'd bring ham for "Uncle Buddy" (my grandfather). During the visit in question, my grandfather was not doing too well. In fact, he died in the middle of the week of SC's visit. And the grand tragedy was that he never got to have his last taste of country ham. This caused our cousin great consternation.
On the day we all gathered at the funeral home to say our goodbyes and greet the guests, the family arrived about an hour early for a private viewing. When Southern Cousin arrived, he came in with the country ham under his arm. One of my uncles noticed it (how could you not . . . it was a ham, after all) and asked him why he had it. "I'm fixin' to put this ham in Uncle Buddy's casket." And with that, the collective jaw of the group dropped. "What?" someone managed to say. "I'm fixin' to put this ham in Uncle Buddy's casket," he repeated. And then he did.
I know people leave all kind of mementos to be buried with the deceased. I left a tube of lipstick with my grandmother when she died. But this is the first casket-ham I've ever heard of (and thus far, the last). But there it was, just for my grandfather.
I know this because while the rest of the family was inside the room with my grandfather, I was sitting in the hallway outside, as I am not one who wants to see someone's body in order to say goodbye. While the rest of my family was in the parlor, I sat waiting. Just then, these two big mafioso-looking goombahs in dark suits who worked at the funeral home came out and stood in the doorway. They took no notice of me as they had this conversation:
Goombah #1: Are we still closing the casket before the viewing?
Goombah #2: I think so.
Goombah #1: Did you see the ham?
Goombah #2: Yeah. What are we doing with that?
Goombah #1: I'm not touching the ham. Are you touching the ham?
Goombah #2: I'm not touching the ham.
And on they went. I couldn't figure out why these two huge dudes, who spend all day around dead bodies were so afraid of a little ham. Sure it was weird, but it wasn't something you didn't want to touch. Maybe it was because it wasn't embalmed. Maybe they were vegetarians. Maybe it's because country ham smells worse than a dead body. I don't know.
Of course, I couldn't wait to share with the rest of the family the ham drama when they came out into the hallway. A few at a time they filtered out and before going back into the parlor. And as they did, I regaled them with the saga of the ham. Before long, everyone was buzzing about the ham. It was a highly inappropriate moment of levity at an otherwise somber occasion.
The next day, during the funeral, family members got up to share their memories of my grandfather. It was sad . . . until SC got up. The first words out of his mouth were, "My Uncle Buddy loved country ham. . ." I have no idea what the rest of the eulogy said because I was laughing so hard, I had to pretend to be having a coughing fit. A ripple of similarly disguised laughter went through the first few pews where the rest of my family was sitting. This just egged SC on, "Yes. Y'all know he really did love that ham."
The rest of the funeral was pretty run-of-the-mill, with no further cured meat appearances. But afterward we went to where my grandfather would be interred, and as far as we know, nobody had removed the ham. And that's the story of how my grandfather went to his eternal rest with a ham in his casket.
Epilogue: When WH and I got married later that year, Southern Cousin came to our wedding and brought with him his momma, a case of SunDrop, and a country ham. I guess old habits die hard.