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Originally published Thursday, March 3, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Book review

How funerals are done in the South

"Being Dead is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral" by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays Hyperion...

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Cookbooks come, cookbooks go. Here, death is the excuse to gather a number of Southern Delta traditions and recipes, dress them in salted pecans, ham mousse and avocado mayonnaise, and serve them at the wake.

Gayden Metcalfe, a lifelong resident of Greenville, Miss., has teamed up with writer Charlotte Hays to produce a short, entertaining cookbook, "Being Dead is No Excuse." It aims at educating readers on the proper Southern funeral traditions.

It is a guide to choosing the appropriate flowers, using the proper language in the obituary (to gloss over the deceased's indiscretions) and making sure you spend eternity among your relatives in the century-old family graveyard after being glowingly eulogized at a well-attended funeral.

At a certain point you wonder if the authors are pulling your leg. The dry, arch comments in cozy Southern tones make it sound like a parody of "Gone With the Wind."

"There are people in the Delta who are greatly admired because they always do or say the right thing. One such paragon is Mrs. Lassiter Pierce. We always say how much we admire her because she always holds her head up high, even though her mother ran away with the lion tamer in a traveling circus."

"Being Dead is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral"

by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays
Hyperion, 243 pp., $19.95

"Being Dead" is fun to read. Important at a wake are the "dainty pimento cheese sandwiches on whole-wheat bread with the crusts cut off," and "stuffed eggs and delicious cakes that can last for the hours it may take to eulogize the dead."

Among the recipes is Bland's Crabmeat dish that starts with a pound of fresh jumbo lump crabmeat and homemade mayonnaise, and admonishes you to use the proper capers, "the smaller, more delicate ones."

Just never admit to your dinner guests that you got the recipe for your delicious cake from a book on regional funeral customs.

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