Preacher's wife: 'A funeral in Appalachia is an emotional and wonderful thing'


A funeral in Appalachia is an emotional and wonderful thing.  If you’ve never attended a mountain farewell celebration, there’s much to be appreciated.

Last weekend, the funerals of two of my beloved’s cousins were held back home in Belfry, Ky.  At the first, cousins from all over hugged, laughed, and cried as they reminisced.  They hadn’t been together in years.  I watched and listened as they talked at once, catching up for lost time.

 In the mountains, we take a seat and sit a spell.  And we did.

The six offspring from the Scalf clan had been Ernestine, Maxine, Edgar, Willie (Junior), Janice, and Frankie.  While the elder Scalfs have passed on, their children had gathered to pay their respects to one of their own.  Seeing all of them together, I grabbed a pen to take notes.  I’d only met a few of them over the years but had heard their names and stories forever.  I wanted to get everyone straight.  When you pay attention, you can learn the best stuff.

Ernestine married Kingfish (probably not his real name).  They begat Morgan and Judy.  Maxine begat Mickey and Debbie.  He is married to Pam, while she is married to Pogo (truly not his real name).  Edgar’s kids were Dan and Phil.  (I found out Dan proposed to his wife at their Junior Prom.)  Junior’s children were Stan and Susan.  Janice had two daughters: Brenda and Leigh Ann.  Frankie also had two girls:  Karen and Sharon.  Karen passed away four years ago; this was Sharon’s funeral.  See why I took notes?

A few family members shared in the service.  Dan said Sharon had wanted to have a family reunion this year and here they were.  He talked about all those she was now with in heaven.  Smiles and tears covered every face.

The next day, a completely different and yet related Bevins clan gathered.  The Bevins children were Ethel, Armilda, Craft, Eunice, Glessie, and Myrtle.  I mention the names of the Scalf’s and Bevin’s because they were good mountain people.  Hard workers, honest, kind to their neighbors.  This time their descendants had come together to celebrate the homegoing of Geraldine Welch, a beloved retired teacher who had touched many lives.  Geraldine’s family traveled in mostly from Lexington to pay their respects.  Cousins from the previous day also appeared.  The hugs, the reminiscing, and laughter were all present here, too. 

These weren’t actually my people; I’m from Pond Creek.  These dears were from Big Creek.  I wasn’t flesh and blood but was grafted in upon my marriage in 1980.  I had unknowingly married them all.  They had welcomed me into the fold.

My beloved had the honor of preaching both services.  After telling funny stories with laughter erupting all around, he shared God’s Word.  He reminded everyone that death was coming for all of us, ending with the importance of having a relationship with God.  That’s the game changer. 

We headed to the cemetery both days in the rain.  Along the way, cars and trucks pulled to the side of the road to show respect.  It’s a mountain thing and melts my heart.  It hits different when it’s your family.  The cousins were buried a day and a few feet apart.   After each graveside service, a dinner was held for anyone who wanted to come.  (It used to be called “dinner on the ground” because it was — often right there at the cemetery.)  We left promising we would stay in touch.

When we give our hearts to Jesus, we are grafted into a humungous family or clan.  All sizes, shapes, and ages are connected by the blood of Jesus.  There’s room for everyone.

The two funerals made me think of how it will be in heaven.  I picture us rushing to loved ones we haven’t seen in so long.  Lots of hugs and catching up.  (I’m gonna cry for a second just thinking about hugging my mom.)  There will be laughing along with tears.  We will see Jesus first and then there will be a big dinner.

Dawn Reed is a pastor's wife and newspaper columnist. Reach her at