Every month, I go back to the street where I grew up to spend a couple hours at our Sequoia Road ladies’ book club.
Our ages range from an over-18 high school senior to a couple over-80 real-life seniors, with new and experienced moms, young professionals, and whatever I am filling the gaps in between. We pick a book in advance, which about half of us actually read, and then we spend 20-30 minutes talking about it before transitioning to who’s moving onto the street, what that huge package was in front of someone’s house, how a neighbor’s health is doing, who another neighbor’s boyfriend is, why that one neighbor won’t stop griping about our dogs, and so on. It’s a wonderful time.
Last Thursday, the chosen novel was Being Dead is No Excuse: A Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral--with new afterword and even more recipes! It’s a collection of funny little stories about southern women and all their unspoken social rules surrounding funerals, complete with recipes. This meeting was potluck-style, with each of us bringing one of those recipes, such as tomato aspic, a sort of bloody-mary jello ring.
This time, though, I didn't show up having completed the book, having stopped after the first chapter. I was too good for it. I played it off as “oh, it’s not my style,” and was relieved when Mom and Mammy lost our copy.
This is the first time I didn’t read the novel for the month, having taken the time to start and finish The Zookeeper’s Wife in the span of two days for the sake of our May meeting and having re-read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for April. I loved those two, a couple of relatively heavier reads in our literary rotation, and part of me relished pointing out that the dense scientific passages, racial issues, or long-winded descriptions in either one didn’t bother me as they had some of the other ladies. Granted, I wasn’t lying--I truly enjoyed those passages, but just probably didn’t have to throw it out there as proof that I am the truest of intellectuals.
This time I sat down, focused on the rainbow of church-lady funeral fare on my plate, and listened to what the others had to say. I wish that that choice had come from a place of humility, but truthfully it was more of a haughty silence, saving my brilliant observations for a more worthy subject. Thankfully, everyone else jumped in. It was one of our most lively discussions to date, with warm memories of over-the-top Episcopal vs Methodist clashes, beloved grandmothers who never left the house without makeup, a funeral that featured “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the audacity of serving sliced tomatoes without homemade mayonnaise, and other experiences that didn’t resonate with me specifically, but brought joy to others.
When all was said and done, we planned out our next read, with an admonition from Ms. Margie, who sports a purple streak in her gray hair, when we strayed too close to nonfiction-- “I just don’t read true stories.” We settled on The Nightingale for August and decided to take June off. Finally, we parted ways, leftovers in hand, still chuckling from the evening’s chat, which was a celebration of a culture that is a part of my heritage, whether I like it or not. Problematic, sure-the stories in this book were definitely exclusive to white women of a certain social strata-but a culture to which I shouldn’t fool myself into thinking I am superior.
So in our hiatus next month, maybe I’ll go back to Being Dead is No Excuse and actually finish it for the sake of the ladies of Sequoia Road who practically raised me. It would be the right thing to do for a group of wonderful women. Honestly, though, I’ll probably continue The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, which I started over the course of a family reunion last weekend and ostentatiously left in public areas around the house. We all have our faults.