Death is an unknown than many fear, yet in the hills and hollers of the Appalachian region, for most, it is just a transition to goin home. Now this ain’t to say that we don’t get sad, mourn, and miss the ones we love…but, for many, it means they’re going home to a place that they’ve been taught about and sung about for their entire lives. Eternal life awaits, and the funeral and procession is their golden carriage to their promised land.
There was a time when, not too long ago, a common practice flourished throughout the United States of allowing the grieving families an opportunity to know they had the full respect of total strangers: Oncoming motorists would pull over as a funeral procession approached their vehicle. It’s a sign of respect, honor, and kinship for our fellow humans. This custom is so ingrained in me that not only do I pull over, I immediately turn off my radio and take off my hat and put it over my heart. I also tend to turn down the radio when passing a cemetery or if the light is on outside the funeral home when I pass by. I respect the dead…sometimes more than the living and so does everyone else around here.
Times are changing and now this custom seems to be found only in rural areas of the South and pockets of Appalachia as the ability to slow down for a moment has become an inconvenience.
Appalachia is well known for some of its odd and quirky traditions, customs, and comfort food. Yet there exists one that many local folk take very seriously around here, and for those who plan on visiting this Autumn, it is a good one to understand and respect.
Anna Garland, who has spent her entire 76 years in the hills and hollers of Appalachia recalls, “It’s just a sign of respect — a way of saying ‘We don’t know you, but we know that you’re hurting and therefore we’re going to pause of a few seconds to show our respect.’ It’s how things were done when I was younger and I sure miss that level of respect people had for strangers.”
But where it gets hairy is when folks who may not know the custom or those who simply don’t care try to pass the procession or weave through the vehicles who have stopped to pay their respects. And this is where folks get hurt. Us locals will do what it takes to stop traffic even if it means standing in the middle of the road to stop cars. So as you find yourself vacationing in some of these rural mountain towns and if you happen to come across a funeral procession, take the time to stop for a few moments and honor not only a fellow human’s life, but their family as well. They were probably someone who helped make the town you adore so much what it is today, and you’d want the same respect shown to your family. I mean, isn’t the point of vacationing here to slow down a bit, anyway?