Saturday, May 13, 2017

Roy Griffin Describes Typical Funeral in Greensboro, N.C., 1915

Look Over Your Shoulder, One-Nine-0-0: Greensboro at the Turn of the Century, by Roy Griffin, published in 1970. Recollections and photographs from Greensboro from 1890 to 1892 and 1915-1917; page 46
A man dies. His body is brought home from the undertaker’s. This is the custom. His casket-clad body will be “on view” for his last two or three days before burial. Friends and relatives will come from near and far. Neighbors will appear from up the street and down the street, and from the other side of the block. Flowers will fill every available container on every available spot. The sweet, sweet fragrance fills the room and hides in one’s nostrils for days.
In the room in which the corpse lies, the windows are raised or lowered so fresh air will help erase the smell of death. The window curtains and the green shades wave softly in the breeze, as if they are waving good-bye to a friend. A relative or a friend stands silently by the casket and shoos a fly away from the still, waxen face. Occasionally, someone will walk over and pat the cold hand folded over the still heart.
The kitchen table, the stove, the sideboard, are all filled to overflowing with food the sympathizers have brought in. A steady stream of sorrowful, but food-loving, people visit the kitchen and with food-filled mouths express their sorrow to the family. The coffee pot bubbles continuously; and those who ae “sitting up” the night never let go their cup.
The men-folks sit around smoking and chewing tobacco, and compliments for the departed one fills the air. The women folk huddle together and all agree that he “had a good heart.” The children, not knowing or understanding the sad faces and tears, very quietly—just eat!
And, the man, who had never been quite able to provide enough for his family, looking out from the great dark beyond, thinks, “I have never seen so many lovely flowers…I have never seen so many people come to visit...I have never seen so much food…I must ask this question: why not flower, and love, and understanding, and food for a man, while he is living.”

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