Author Interview: Pepper Phillips
How this book came to be:
I'm a Nursing Home Administrator, and one of our patients was in the local hospital, dying.
She was one of those ladies that I pictured as the perfect grandmother. Fluffy, white-haired, brilliant blue eyes, a peach tone to her wrinkled skin, she was the grandmother pictured in all the books I read as a kid.
She was lying in the hospital bed with her eyes closed, her family around her, and I bent over and kissed her on the forehead and whispered in her ear, "Mom, come home, we miss you." I stood up, her eyes snapped open, startling the daylights out of me.
Three days later she was back in the nursing home. I figured that she heard her family talking about her demise and thought she was dying.
The day she came back to the nursing home, her daughter was talking to my Director of Nurses and myself and made the comment, "We have to change out the pig in the freezer."
My D.O.N. and I looked at each other, wondering what she was referring to, and we had to ask. The explanation was that the family kept a roasting pig in their freezer so that when their mother died, it would be roasted for the funeral.
We were both speechless.
I went back into my office and thought for a moment, grabbed one of those 4x6 pads with advertising and wrote the beginning of The Devil Has Dimples. The excerpt is those five pages fleshed out over the years. It took me six months to write the last line, ‘The next day, the daughter no one knew existed showed up in Boggy Bayou.’ and that's when the story really started.
You knew Maudie Cooper was really dead when you read her funeral invite listed in the Boggy Bayou Chronicle.
I’m T-Jack Couvillion, newspaper owner and reporter of ‘The oldest family-run newspaper in Louisiana.’ I can’t report all the news, else I’d be sued every week after the paper came out. So, I just ramble my thoughts down in case I need to jog my memory later on. You never know when some bit of information might sell more papers.
Back to Maudie. There had been talk, of course. Someone said Maudie was dead, but I couldn’t print her obit, ‘cuz I couldn’t find out if it were true.
Some figured she finally found a salesman gullible enough to believe her blarney about being rich. Heaven knows, she cornered every male that ate their lunch at Hank’s Hole-in-the-Wall, her hunting ground. Most never came back. Maudie could talk them to death. Fact is, she talked so much they didn’t notice she put her lunch on their tab. Or they didn’t care. It was a small price to pay for their freedom.
Two or three were of the opinion that Maudie wasn’t dead. They thought old Sedgewick Jeansonne had finally caved in to her amorous overtures and that the two were holed up at his place doing the naughty. No one had seen him much since Maudie closed up her antique store about two weeks ago.
We all missed Maudie.
Silas Moreau, the town’s fix-it man, figured that she could wear out any one human being in three to five hours.
When the boys who sit in front of the courthouse questioned how he knew that fact, he just turned beet red and left. Silas hasn’t lived that down yet.
The boys (the youngest being seventy-seven and the oldest being Mackie Marcotte, who lies about his age, but everyone knows he’s ninety-three) at the courthouse spent most days speculating where she might have gone. They missed Maudie telling them all the news, gossip, and trash on everyone in town and the ten miles that encircle Boggy Bayou. She gave most of the juicier leads to me.
Our number of tidbits really dropped when she disappeared. Wasn’t hardly anything to talk about. Excepting Maudie, of course.
No man dared fool around in Boggy Bayou. Maudie always found out. And after she called the man’s wife, the rest of the town knew before he could zip up his pants.
I was in my office finishing the last details on the newspaper, when Grant St. Romain, Maudie’s attorney, brought in her funeral invite. That was a shock. I said a silent prayer for her and almost busted a gut getting the revised paper out on time.
Maudie would have loved the layout. Hearts and flowers danced around the corners and inside big bold letters spelled out “Maudie Cooper - Last Rites.” She died in late October and her wishes were to be buried on Halloween night.
Yeah, at night.
According to the notice, everyone was invited to dress in costume and bring a candle to light during the service in the cemetery. Since kids were invited, candy would be available for the trick or treaters. Afterward there would be a pig roast and beer bust at the local V.F.W. Hall. Most everyone thought that was a nice touch.
All her friends and most of her enemies decided to dress up and go. It’s not every day you get to wear a costume to a funeral.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite so many people at a graveside service.
Silas dressed up as a pig, complete with a snout, and went around grunting and snorting at all the ladies. He got a lot of teasing about being dinner. Silas didn’t need any padding, and many of us wondered why he owned a pink jumpsuit.
Bitsy, Silas’s wife, ran an apple dunking contest by the front gate, welcoming everyone and thanking them for coming. You would have thought it was the social event of the year, but then, she and Silas don’t get out much.
Mackie Marcotte, Grant St. Romain, and I stood watching the goings on.
“Mackie, you ever been to a funeral on Halloween?”
He thought for a moment, most likely turning the decades over in his mind searching for an answer.
“Nope. This is the first night funeral I’ve ever been at. Makes me think it might be a good idea when my time comes.”
“Never for me either, although I did attend a Halloween wedding once. It was a bit over the top,” said Grant.
Maudie’s casket was perched on a roller parked next to the grave hole.
“Her casket looks like it cost a handsome dollar,” I said.
Mackie nodded. “They should have given her a kid’s coffin, since she was so small. If’n I die in the next ten minutes, stuff me in there with her. There’s more than enough room.”
Grant chuckled. “I don’t think your wife would like that, Mackie.”
Mackie shook his head, “You’re most likely right. Maybe I can get us a double wide and we can sleep together ‘til the end of time. That would jolt her.”
Grant and I couldn’t help but laugh, the visual alone was hilarious.
We watched as kids, busy munching on treats, and bobbing for apples, threw apple cores and candy wrappers all over the ground.
The more serious-minded adults brought lawn chairs and ice chests to get a head start on the beer bust.
When the time for the service arrived, everyone lit their candles. I have to tell you that was a show. The candlelight sure was pretty. Some of the kids had their candles in hollowed-out pumpkins, so there were orange and white lights all over the place. It was dark enough that you couldn’t see the empty candy wrappers anymore. A few placed candles on the built-up burial sites, making the area rather festive, even for a graveyard.
Silas managed to burn his snout almost off with his candle. Bitsy threw a bucket of apples and water over him and his cronies and managed to put that fire out quite nicely.
Reverend Benny Gagnard stood at the head of the casket. Drawing his fist up to his mouth, he coughed to clear his throat, then said in his loud, hearty sermon voice, “She’s dead. Thank you, Lord.”
Mackie turned to me. “That was the shortest eulogy I’ve ever heard.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “He must be still ticked off ‘cause of Maudie telling his wife about his indiscretion with the choir leader.”
Mackie nodded. “Just goes to show you. What goes around, comes around.”
Then the choir led out the song. Angie Tassin, the choir leader and Maudie’s arch-enemy, raised a little triangle and whacked it twice. The choir, all Angie’s friends, began to sing, “Ding dong, the witch is dead, the wicked, wicked witch is dead.” Angie finally got her revenge. They continued the song while the rest of us hooted, hollered, and laughed so hard, tears rolled down our faces. Silas fell out of his lawn chair and lost what was left of his burned snout, but didn’t spill a drop of beer.
The only person who seemed to take everything serious was Sedge. He was dressed up in a new black suit complete with the label still on the sleeve, a hat in his hand and even carried a bunch of yellow flowers he’d picked that grow wild along the roadside during this time of year.
Mackie said, “I’ve never known Sedge to dress in a suit. Didn’t even know that he had one.”
“Maybe he’s in costume.” I replied.
“As what? A funeral director?” Grant asked.
“He could be a mourner, what with the flowers and all. He and Maudie have been friends for a quarter of a century.”
Sedge placed his hand on the casket and started to cry.
The three of us stood there, uncomfortable, not knowing what to do.
Someone dressed up in a witch’s costume walked over to him and patted him on the back, giving him what comfort she could and handed him a handkerchief. He was so overcome with grief that he almost toppled into the grave.
Finally, the singing stopped, and while everyone wiped tears and smirks off their faces, the casket was lowered, and old Sedge dropped his bouquet on top.
Then Silas threw in Bitsy’s candle and that started a candle throwing frenzy. Needless to say, there was a really big blaze going in no time.
The grave diggers got hopping and shoveled dirt in fast. Eventually the blaze was buried and so was Maudie.
The town’s sure going to miss that old gal. She sure knew how to enjoy life, and her death wasn’t so bad either.
Then came the biggest surprise of all.
The next day, the daughter no one knew existed showed up in Boggy Bayou.