When my mother passed away, I knew that I had done everything possible that a daughter could do to serve her mother’s needs. So I had absolutely no guilt and not too much sadness.
She was 88 and had lived a great life. I believe she’d gone to a greater place. Death can be a celebration in these circumstances.
Before mother’s passing, I had entertained her in her wheelchair. We took trips together to Charleston on every Mother’s Day and one last trip to Vegas. She loved to play bridge and gamble.
She was loved and she well deserved this love.She passed on my birthday. I thanked her for that. It was to me, her daughter, an honor.
But nothing could have shaken or shocked me more than my Mama’s Southern Karaoke Funeral.
There were no written plans or even verbal talk about her funeral. The four of us kids didn’t realize this until we asked Daddy what his plans for mama’s funeral were.
You know the regular questions you ask: What is the time of the service? Who is singing? Who’s the preacher? Where is the burial site?
I asked my Daddy about mother’s funeral.
Daddy replied, “Sugar, I don’t know!!!!”
I said, “Daddy, what do you mean you don’t know?”
This was not my first rodeo at funerals, but it was our mother we were talking about.
“Sugar,” Daddy said. “I just never thought about your mama’s funeral.”
Daddy was clueless.
“Jesus, Daddy! What do you mean you don’t have any plans? This is mama’s funeral — your wife — our mother! Holy shit, Daddy. This is not going well.”
One thing I knew was that we were going to bury mama in the yard at home. All of our family funerals have always been at home. It’s a tradition our grandmother started. She lost two stillborns and a teenage son. It comforted our grandmother to know that she had her family close to her.
This started the family Southern funeral tradition.
The body would go to the funeral home and then return home for a few days where it would lie in the library room in front of the house. There were open pocket doors into the living room and that’s where we would sit for the services to be held.
Of all the things that should be so easy in a funeral service, the first would seem to me would be to get the preacher right.
Well, we didn’t have a preacher.
I went to find out why we didn’t have a preacher, and Daddy told me he had had a fight with the church and told them in his words, and I quote, “Go. To. Hell.”
“Go to hell?” I repeated.
Oh my God, I was thinking. I knew we were in serious trouble. I didn’t even want to know why Daddy told our family’s Methodist Church to go to hell.
Mama would roll over in her casket if she knew what Daddy had done. She was a big supporter in our church. She’d been a Sunday school teacher. You know the small town type.
But nevertheless, I persisted. We had a funeral we had to put on.
“Daddy, where did you get a preacher then?” I asked.
“Did you know you could rent a minister?” my Daddy said. “He came out of Fayetteville, North Carolina.”
“No,” I said.
“You sure can,” he said.
I didn’t ask what denomination.
“Lucky you can get one on such a short notice,” he nodded.
He was not a Methodist, I can tell you that. To be honest, I don’t know what denomination he was. It really didn’t matter at that point.
Because we also had to have music and get a singer.
I asked Daddy about Mr. West. He has a beautiful voice and he always sings at everybody’s funeral.
Daddy replied, “Oh sugar, he’s sick. He’s in a nursing home. I think he got the dementia.”
He wasn’t the only one, I thought to myself.
“Sug,” said Daddy. “Call Hardee’s. Ask to speak to Tom. And when Tom comes to the phone, you tell him that I, Jack DuBose, said that he has to sing at your mother’s funeral.”
“Hardee’s? As in the biscuits?? Oh my God, you have got to be cutting me one.”
I did not have time to argue with Daddy, though, so I called Hardee’s to ask for Tom. Tom came to the phone. I told Mr. Tom what daddy’s request was.
Mr. Tom said he would be honored to sing at our mother’s funeral.
Thank you, Jesus.
The morning of mama’s funeral, bright and early, I was upstairs in my bedroom moving around and I heard this machine. So I looked out the bedroom window, and you’re not gonna believe this, but there was a backhoe digging all four family graves up.
Grandmother and Granddaddy. Uncle Cornelius. Uncle Donald.
“What is going on?” I screamed. I was running downstairs calling Daddy. “DADDY! DADDY!”
“Daddy, what’s with the backhoe? And why are they digging up Grandma’s casket along with the rest of them? What is going on, Daddy?!?”
“Sug,” he said. “The town people won’t let me bury your mom in the yard.”
“What? No way, Daddy! You got to be kidding me!”
“So,” he continued, calm as all get out. “We’re digging up everybody and moving them on my flatbed truck to take them to the farm.”
I stood there speechless.
“Sug,” he smiled. “It’s a good thing everybody’s short because this flatbed truck’s just so long.”
There were tears in my eyes.
“Sug,” he said. “We will bury your mother today– that’s a promise.”
Yes, sir, I thought to myself. Well, I hope so. Every breathing soul will be at the house for mama’s funeral today.
Jesus, have mercy on this day.
I truly did not want to know why we couldn’t bury mom in the side yard. There is no telling what he might’ve had said at a town hall meeting. Probably got everybody riled up and mad at him.
God bless our father.
An hour before the funeral, I was standing on mama’s front porch, which was my grandmother’s home and where my parents lived after my grandmother passed.
Now picture a front porch wrapped all around the house onto the sides, a southern old home loaded with people talking and sharing stories about mom.
That was when I noticed this elderly short man about 5’3″ walking up and approaching the front steps of the house carrying a medium sized box with a handle. He also was wearing a white 1960s leisure suit with wide lapels.
I didn’t think much of it. Why would I? Everything else was pretty bizarre. I didn’t know half these people. I had moved away when I got married like my siblings did. There were many town people there and church people and people I did not know.
At 11:00, it was time for mama’s services. She’d been at the house for three days now. We put tap shoes on her and put a deck of cards in her casket. We fiddled with her hair and we all said our goodbyes. So it was time.
Our chairs were lined up side-by-side. My brother was on my right side. My sister was on the left side of me and beside her were Daddy and my younger sister. Husbands and children and grandkids were behind us.
I started looking over my left shoulder to see my sister-in-law because of the noise behind me. She was holding her head down so I could not see her face. At first I thought she was crying. But she was laughing, almost uncontrollable, so I turned around quickly thinking she was being odd.
I could not believe my eyes as I turned around.
The man that walked up the steps of mama’s house earlier that morning? The one with white large lapels on a 1960s leisure suit with blue thread stitching? With white patent leather shoes that you could see for a country mile?
This was Tom, the singer from Hardee’s.
Tom sort of jumped out from behind the pocket doors where mama was staying, with a microphone in his hand, and started singing “Mansion in the Sky” on his karaoke machine with his backup singers on tape.
He might as well have been Elvis because my sister was so excited she went to fanning her legs wide open. The dust on the floor was kicking up. Tom was quite the singer because he kept getting louder about the mansion in the sky. He thought she was being moved by his singing. All she needed to do was start clapping.
I leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Would you please shut down your Beaver Dam? It’s causing Mr. Karaoke Tom’s song to take on another tune.”
Tom had gotten louder with my sister’s movement. We just needed to get through this song.
But with my sister’s encouragement, Mr. Karaoke Tom decided he needed to sing this song twice.
Then the renter preacher stood up. He was about to say my mama’s name, and guess what?
The rental preacher had a lisp. I didn’t know if he’d been paralyzed by my sister’s Beaver Dam that had burst or if he just couldn’t talk.
Bless his heart.
Natalie DuBose was mama’s name. He started trying to pronounce her name and the more he tried, the worse it got.
Mama’s name might as well have been Zelda Warts for all that rental preacher cared.
I turned to my brother. “Please tell me this isn’t true,” I murmured.
I was almost cussing under my breath.
He gave me a look of Don’t. You. Dare.
My brother is very proper – just like my mama was.
I had been warned.
So I decided I’d look out the window behind the rental preacher and there was a rocking chair on the front porch that was rocking all by itself. It was moving extremely fast.
Don’t you know? It was mama trying to tell me something. She was always teaching me lessons. This time, from the grave, she taught me how to laugh at My Mama’s Southern Karaoke Funeral.
Deborah DuBose is a white widow who grew up in the South in the 1950s. After the death of her husband, she began a journey of learning to see the realities of gender, race and class inequality that allowed her to claim her own power and begin to pass these lessons on in her writing.