Saturday, March 14, 2009
"The 'Fun' in Funeral"
I have heard stories from the older ones in my family about funerals in New Orleans that they recalled attending. I just assumed that they were embellished over time. The eccentric air and the unusual behavior seemed to be more a part of the storytelling than the actual events. Recently, I have come to the conclusion that it is possible that these family stories may actually have an air of truth to them.
Many of the stories include drinking, music,dancing, fights and of course, food. It is completely improper not to provide food and beverages after, if not before a funeral around here. A cousin from New York commented to me recently that one of the things she loves the most about attending New Orleans' funerals is the deviled eggs. "you can't get them much in New York and they're definitely not served at a funeral!" I don't know if this is true or not, but I found it a rather interesting comment.
It is not that we don't take our funerals seriously; we just feel that there are less taboos. If you want to have a jazz band follow you to the cemetery and celebrate your life, then so be it. If you want to have your collection of Monster Trucks and race cars surrounding your tomb at burial, so be it. If your family members get drunk and fight in the parking lot, well that happens too. Photographs are taken and there is a general air of community and yes, celebration.
What sparked this latest rumination was an article in the Times-Picayune of New Orleans written by Chris Rose. Mrs. Antionette K-Doe has died and Mr. Rose attended the funeral. Antoinette was the husband of our own R&B legend, the late Mr. Ernie K-Doe. Mr. Rose describes in his article the scene of the horse drawn hearse and the odd mix of folks "beaming in anticipation of a classic New Orleans street throwdown." and this was the line of his article that struck me. Many of our funerals are indeed "New Orleans street throwdowns", to borrow his description. I realized upon reading this that sometimes when a funeral passes me; I don't even realize it is a funeral until I actually lay eyes on something that resembles a hearse.
At Mrs K-Doe's funeral the procession included the Mardi Gras Indians and horn players as well as the Baby Dolls marching club (which I'm thinking are not anything near baby dolls anymore) but what I loved the most was that the late Ernie K-Doe, as Mr. Rose puts it, became the first man to attend his own widow's funeral. A mannequin of his likeness was seated in the mule drawn carriage behind the hearse. Mr. Rose describes the scene of the parade and describes, "the mannequin of a dead eccentric musician lording over the proceedings from high atop his carriage throne..."
Hmm, I thought, I'm sorry I missed that one. Their really aren't any rules about joining a jazz funeral on its route, or any other kind of funeral in New Orleans for that matter! Don't mistake me on this point though. New Orleans is a tough place to live sometimes. It is not always Mardi Gras in the Big Easy. Most days are a trial. So, we celebrate the lives and the strength of the people that are able to live in the city and contribute to it in their own special way. It is only natural that we have a last hurrah for them! and, well, it's always a good excuse for a party.
You can read Chris Rose's article on NOLA.com; it appeared in print on Sunday, March 8, 2009 in the Times-Picayune