The brown paper grocery bag held three loaves of bread — not even Sunbeam or Wonder Bread, just run-of-the-mill regular old sliced bread. It was my first experience with a death in the family, but I knew to smile, say "thank you," and get the name of the bread bearer so a proper thank you note could be sent.
Others had delivered hearty casseroles and boxes of chicken and ham to my grandparents' house. But this woman stood shyly on the porch and said, "I'm so sorry about Mrs. Estelle. We just loved her and wanted you to have this." As she turned to walk away, she added, "Your grandmother was a fine lady."
Church members and friends honored the first rule of Southern funeral etiquette: "Tote food to the bereaved since they'll be too sad to cook, and decency prevents them from traipsing through the Piggly Wiggly the day after their loved one kicks the bucket."
If the extended family is large, everyone knows there will be a crowd to feed, so the kindness of a meal is greatly appreciated.
But loaves of basic white bread? It was only lacking fish to be a biblical miracle.
I was only in my second year of college and didn't understand the ins and outs of funeral etiquette, but I recognized the look on the woman's face as one of real angst. An Aunt said the woman was a neighbor whose family was "down on their luck."
The woman and her husband, along with several children lived down the winding road just past my Grandparent's house, off a side lane, in a small mobile home.. The story evolved that my grandmother had gone out of her way to show kindness to this family, which didn't surprise me. She invited the children to attend her church's Vacation Bible School, then picked them up and dropped them off every day. She was encouraging to the young mother and often took them small treats of cookies or shared vegetables from her garden.
The young mother knew she should bring something to our family, but what? She was probably too intimidated to cook a meal, and the cost of providing food for our big family was out of her budget. But the wise mother knew sliced bread was always welcome in a crowded house.
The bread was indeed practical and used for making sandwiches with the leftover slices of ham and turkey, and after being popped in the toaster, it was spread with grandmother's homemade jelly for a quick breakfast before we went to the funeral home. The loaves were appreciated and needed.
The thoughtfulness and generosity of that family touched our hearts for years. The young mother's wisdom and practicality gave us insight into why my grandmother loved her. She reminded me of the widow in the Bible story who gave the seemingly small offering of two coins, which at first appeared measly compared to the other big givers, yet Jesus saw her gift as the most precious of all. She gave all she had. Two coins or three loaves of bread, or casseroles, hams and jugs of sweet tea. Funeral food is a beautiful way to demonstrate love, and in this case, it not only filled our stomachs, but also filled our hearts for years to come.