Learning From One Of The South's Finest Traditions

If only we could all live like we're in the middle of a funeral procession in the rural south.

It’s far from perfect but I love the south.

I love how people use food like people in other geographical locations use greeting cards. You lost a loved one? Here’s some chicken. You’re getting married? Take some of my banana pudding. Your kid just won the state championship? Awesome! Let’s eat.

I love the nicknames. I have a friend named Cornbread. I love it when he calls and the word Cornbread pops up on my phone. The only problem with this is when you go to the hospital to visit your friend named Scooter.

Lady at front desk: "Can I help you find a patient?"

You: "Yes. I’m looking for Scooter’s room."

Lady at front desk: {confused} "I’m sorry. We don’t have anyone here by that name. Does he go by anything else?"

You: "Try Scoot."

Maybe someday the hospitals in the south will come around and start adding nicknames to the patient directory.

I love what people call their grandparents. In the south, they have names like Ootie and Bo Pop or LuLu and Skank. This happens because small children in the south have a hard time pronouncing the words Grandma and Grandpa. So Ootie and Bo Pop come out instead. This is cute when the child is 4 and wants to see his Bo Pop. It can be problematic when the child grows older and asks the folks at the Wednesday night prayer meeting to pray for his Skank.

But the thing I love most about the south is our funerals. One time I was driving through the small town of Toccoa, Georgia with a friend from Boston riding shotgun. A line of cars drove our way with their lights on so I pulled over. He gave me the same look he gave me when I told him that Tommy Wildfire Rich was the most famous person I had ever met.

“What are you doing,” he exclaimed in his thick Boston accent.

I told him that in the south, when a funeral procession goes by, we pull over. It’s our way of showing respect to the family. He still wasn’t convinced. It was at that moment that I decided that I never wanted to be buried in Boston.

Last week I was driving through my small town when the truck in front of me suddenly pulled to the side of the road. This truck was of the jacked up variety. It had huge wheels and a roll bar in the back. The back window was tinted and had stickers of footprints from various wild game all over. I never saw the front windshield but I’ll bet you an autographed Tommy Wildfire Rich napkin that it said something like, “Ain’t Skeered.”

The driver of this prototypical rural southern truck appeared to be quite young.

I was proud of this young man. He had been taught well. He made me think about the two young boys in the back of the car that I was driving. I hoped that they were being taught well too.

There had to have been about 20 to 30 cars in this funeral procession. The people inside of the cars were black. Death is no respecter of ethnicity.

I’ve lived in the south my whole life, except for a short stint in Louisville, Kentucky which is not the south because they make you add your own sugar when they bring you your tea at a restaurant. The south isn’t perfect. We have our problems. Too many to count. So please don’t hear me trying to make the south something that it is not. It is not heaven. But it is home. And I think that it could teach us something.

What if we could all treat each other like we were in a funeral procession?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could slow down, put our agendas on hold for a while, and empathize with other people, no matter how different from us they might be?

Our nation is divided. Terribly divided. Frighteningly divided. Little kids are being treated as political pawns. Instead of listening to each other, we prefer talking louder. We can’t see past our own tribe. Even when our tribe is glaringly wrong, we double down in the error with them. Rather than examining the foolishness of our own tribe, we bark about how the other tribe started it. Instead of hurting with those who hurt, we assume that they had it coming. And we wonder why we’re so angry all the time.

If only we could all constantly live like we do in the rural south when a funeral procession goes by. Instead, we are driven by our political idolatry. We go wherever it takes us. In a very real way, we are like the dead person in the funeral procession. We are helplessly following a path that leads straight to the grave.

If we begin to see others as human beings created in God’s image, we are more likely to empathize with them. That doesn’t mean that we always have to agree with them. We shouldn’t. It just means that in our disagreements, we remember what’s important. To that family driving their loved one to the cemetery, the president’s tweets and Rachel Maddow’s reaction to them didn’t matter.

They were too busy grieving.

And to the people pulled over on the side of the road, the political affiliations of that grieving family didn’t matter.

They were too busy paying their respects.

I know I’m being too simplistic. But last week, pulled over on the side of the road, things were simple. There was a grieving family. And there was a loving community. If only we could keep living that way when the funeral is over, the headlights are turned off and all the cars spread out to go their separate ways.

The south is far from perfect. But even when you’re the one riding in the funeral procession and you see people from all different backgrounds pull over to pay their respects to your family, for a few brief moments, everything feels just fine.

No. 1-8

Let me add "Butter," and "Tick."


And beyond.


P.S. My favorite (LA) nickname was "Booby" for a thirty-something year old man who got it from being slow to wean. These nicknames are lifelong.


Love it. Must say, though, that, while the plethora of hilarious nicknames is uniquely Southern (including the border states like Kentucky), the food and funeral practices are rural USA. I lived my childhood and youth in N. Dak, AZ, CA,and WY and, as adult, in IN, KY, ND, LA, CO, and FL. I have commonly experienced these in rural areas (and mid-sized towns) of each.


I moved to TN from FL (also the South, but not really) and was astounded in a good way when I happened upon this tradition the first time. Now, I'm just humbled by it. Our daughter, who is 21, says it's her favorite thing about the South. She also says that if more people were exposed to this kind of reverence in death, we'd have a better understanding of life.