Saturday morning we were up and off to the country for Cricket’s funeral.. There was a
brief stop to photograph three crosses—Jesus and the two men or the Trinity—which
ever way you see it and the signs in yards and businesses all over Columbia that said
“Enough is enough. Let’s stand up for Jesus.” Plus the Ten Commandants in a front
yard that also held a building that had the American flag painted on the side made for
We went straight to Cricket’s shack—the front yard covered with cars and pick up
trucks—most were white. There were young men were on the porch and people
scattered everywhere in her humble shack. One daughter led me to her bedroom to show
me the watercolor that I had done long ago of her shack hanging on the wall over her
bed. Cathy said she was so proud of the painting. I had never sat down and visited in a
black person’s house before. Her children and her grandchildren were so warm and
friendly. One young man was a policeman in New Orleans and proceeded to tell Bill how
it really was down there. This was in March 2006 after Katrina had struck the August
before. I snapped one daughter in the swing on the front porch with a wisteria bush
behind her. Every Southern home has a wisteria bush. I asked a mama if she would
bring out her small daughter in a pink play suit for me to take a picture of her.
Bill and I left to go photograph Cricket’s parents shack—Uncle Joe and Mary—on the
highway to Louisiana that I had photographed with William the weekend before. It was a
lonely cabin in a wide space—a porch and a chimney—a story of long ago. On the way
from there to the church I spotted a white stretch limo turning down the road to Cricket’s
to take the family to the church. What a juxtaposition—that long white limo and that tiny
shabby shack. But the black people do their funerals up big time. The dead are honored
for their time here.
Anyway, the funeral was slow starting with the visitation from 10 am until noon. The church slowly filled with people. Many of them I had seen the Sunday before when I visited there never dreaming I would be back so soon for Cricket. Betty, the hallelujahlady. was all over the place welcoming and seating people. I had asked Barry when I got back from Columbia and the Sunday visit what the woman in the white suit meant. She was all over clapping her hands and singing. He said the Hallelujah Lady whomped the Spirit up.
Cricket was laid out in style. Her hat and dress were pink and a lace handkerchief
covered her hands. She no more looked like herself than a spook. I could not look
at her because she didn’t look like the Cricket I loved. The family arrived in the limo.
The daughter I photographed by the wisteria bush was the first to land in her new dress—
then the other sister, then Cathy in her white suit and large white flying saucer hat. The
hat came off shortly after they were seated.
It was a long service. The ten page program with Cricket’s face on the cover was read
aloud, every word, by older teenagers. I wondered if that went back to the olden days
when not many people could read. The visiting preachers spoke, several hymns were
sung by the choir—swaying as they sang. Two young girls on the back row were
swaying in perfect harmony with the choir. I got amused at a little boy next to us in his
mother’s arms snoring as loud as a grown up during his nap. Tonsils… I guess.
Things progressed in order during the service until something went awry. As Mrs.
Franklin sang unaccompanied another noise joined her. I craned my neck forward to see
what was happening. The first sister by the center aisle was wailing, moaning—just plain
distraught. The fanning committee came running—a man and a woman with paper fans
started fanning her mightily—offering assistance. Finally, she was so inconsolable that
they had to help her go outside. After a while she returned and settled down. Then after
a bit the middle sister let loose with her wails and the fanning committee rushed to her
rescue eventually escorting her outside. More fanners came and fanned all three of the
When they opened the casket after the service for the congregation to view her,
Cathy could not go up there because she had fallen out. With her hat off, and overcome
with grief, she was fanned, consoled and escorted out. And so old Cricket, sweet old
Cricket, had her moment of glory. The program called her birth “sunrise” and her death
“sunset.” She was buried next to her husband, Sonny Boy (Roy)—the tombstone already
engraved with her name, Ella Mae “Cricket” James.
There was lunch afterwards at the church. What a feast the women had prepared—fried
chicken, collards, dressing, potato salad, dirty rice, sweet potatoes, rolls, cornbread, two
cakes and sweet potato pie. I knew I was in the country with that dinner.
What a wonderful tribute to Cricket—a full church and a lot of love for a woman who
had worked hard all of her life.
I knew the aisle sister had recovered from her breakdown during the service when I saw
her plate piled with two chicken breasts and all of the other goodies. I forgot to tell about
the preacher’s sermon—what eloquence. He began slowly then the tempo increased—the
words rolling faster and faster then louder and louder and as his voice got higher my ear
drums felt it. There was never a stutter, never an uh uh—just a smooth oratory on rest,
peace and how all of us will find our rest one day. What an experience—telling my
beloved Cricket goodbye.
Jane Robbins Kerr