During mealtime, the only conversations from women in my family were on illness and death. No matter what else might have been going on in the world, Kennedy’s assassination, Vietnam, presidential elections, sports events ( discussed by men)— women only talked about was who was sick and who was dead.
I’ll never forget what my Uncle said about "death talk". He said, “Tarron, here's what it’s like: My wife and I go down to the café to have a meal. As soon as we walk in the door, she goes off to say hello to her women friends and before I can sit down, every one of them is rattling off the hospital report”.
If you sit through these discussions long enough, you will get the complete medical history on every family and what the doctor said about their health. You could hear my relatives describe the color that someone’s skin turned before getting to the hospital and what street the ambulance took a wrong turn on. You could hear in depth discussions of the food someone ate and whose wife cooked it before her husband had a heart attack. You could gain insight into all the things people do to bring on the hard luck of sickness and what was expected to become of them.
When someone died, “Lord, Lord…” were the first words beginning every sentence, and then, “Poor old so and so”. My mother, her five sisters and both my grandmothers talked on and on about who was at the funeral home and why their relative didn’t show up fast enough to see him before he was laid in the ground. They would dress up any day of the week and go down to the funeral home with casseroles and dishes of homemade beans and ham and pecan pies and cornbread in hand to honor the dead during an open casket showing no matter who had died.
They took their lace hankies-- prepared to grieve and mourn and listen to the same sad hymns sung by choir members of differing churches. Dying was a whole town affair, and talking about it was sewn into this Southern rural culture like the patches on a quilt. You not only talked about what happened, but you showed up to see the body all coiffed and life-like in the casket. Then you went to the cemetery for the burial.
After the last shovel of dirt was tossed on the grave, friends, family and clergy moved from cemetery to home. There they opened plates of pecan pies, pound cakes, sliced ham, fried chicken, creamed corn and three bean casseroles. They poured sweet tea into glasses of ice and served the grieving family.
At this after-death "house warming", you learned more about a person’s life than they would ever want told. But each story, told with great affection, gave the family the sense that their loved one had been known, loved and was already missed and remembered.
And this, I believe, is the original Death Cafe'!