Dirt and Dough
His hands were in the dirt and hers were in the dough. Earl was a gravedigger and his wife May baked cakes for the upper crust of the delta Mississippi culture. They lived next door to my grandma and were like family.
Earl weighed all of 110 pounds soaking wet but May made up for it. She must have been kin to the Pillsbury doughboy or it could be that she loved her own product a little too much. She sort of wobbled when she walked but she sure could make a fine cake.
She made her living selling beautiful cake creations and Earl made a living in the dying business. As a young eager child I often watched May prepare her cakes. Her kitchen counters were often covered with dozens of pans filled with sweet recipes known only to her.
I also once was able to witness Earl do his handiwork. Just like May ended up most mornings covered with a light coating of confectioners’ sugar and dough so Earl came home most days covered in shades of Mississippi mud. He began his work with a backhoe but the fine tuning had to be done by hand. It was messy work but someone had to do it.
I always thought they made an interesting pair; thin and chunky, sweet and bitter, dirt and dough. One of their professions was necessary, the other was elective; but both were good at what they did.
Earl got a good laugh out of the reality that when I traveled down south my first summer of high school I told him that my summer job was digging graves and cutting grass for the Department of Cemeteries in my home town. I was now part of a strange brotherhood.
I often tell people some interesting stories that come from my four years of digging graves. We gravediggers have a certain code so I can’t tell you everything. Suffice it to say that I love sharing some of my cemetery stories which end with, “Yes, you might say that when it comes to the ministry I worked my way from the ground up.”
One perk that came from my days between the tombstones was that after a few days our orders were to either toss the flowers that surrounded a freshly covered grave or pile them on top of the site so that we could mow around it. After all, life must go on after death.
I would often glean some of the flowers that still had life in them and surprise my girlfriend at her cheerleading practice by presenting her with a bouquet of roses or even lilies. The other girls were impressed not only by my amazing tan but by the chivalry of the flower delivery. It must have worked because that cheerleader is now my dear wife.
May made many people happy with her cakes and Earl provided a necessary service for those whose cake eating days had come to a close. In my work now I love being present for the sweet times; baptizing babies, marrying starry eyed lovers, creating engaging worship experiences, and once in a while knowing that I nailed a good sermon. It is like being dusted with confectioners’ sugar.
And of course there are those end times that are not so sweet; doing the funeral of a stillborn infant, holding the hand of the person who just got the bad diagnosis, listening as someone shares the death of a dream or a relationship, and standing beside someone who just knows that God is dead.
Life is too short not to eat cake so eat cake. And yes there is a grave at the end of every life story but the grave is not the end; trust me I know.
I don’t work for the Cemetery Department anymore but the agency I work for now assures me that beyond the dirt there is the dough. The likes of May are preparing divine desserts. I’m sure of it.
So in the words of Jesus loosely translated: “Smell the wildflowers, pay attention to the birds of the air, notice children, offer grace every chance you get and don’t worry so much about the grave because May and I are preparing a place for you so save room for dessert. Earl’s work was honorable but his efforts were not the last word. Life is full of dirt and dough but in the end it will all be ok…trust me.”