Red or White?

At the Baptist church in my hometown of Quacker Holler, Tennessee, as in little country churches all across the south, women wear red corsages if their mothers are alive, white corsages if their mothers have passed. That had worked well for as long as any of us could remember, so no one understood why one year Deacon McFadden thought it would be nice to have the church provide the roses.

It would have worked well if he had kept it simple and bought red roses for all the women, the way some of the big city churches do. Instead, he bought some red and some white and asked a couple of the boys to pin the proper rose on each woman’s lapel as she entered the church.

It still might have turned out all right if he had given them proper etiquette instruction. Sadly, it wasn’t until a guest sat down with a mortified look on her face that anyone thought to go see what the boys were doing. They stood at the door of the church, asking each woman as she arrived, with no explanation or introduction, “Dead, or alive?”

I suppose it could have been worse. As it turned out, we learned three important lessons that day:

  1. Sometimes changing old traditions is more trouble than it is worth;
  2. Sometimes giving everyone white roses, without explaining that you have run out of red roses, causes unexpected outpouring of sympathy; and
  3. Sometimes it is just the prompt we need to think about what life would be like if our mother had already passed, and to pick up the phone and call her while we still have the opportunity. Or better yet, go spend the afternoon with her.