Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Monday, June 14, 2010

Stanger Than Fiction

Ever since my local paper stopped printing obituaries for free and started letting the bereaved write whatever they please about the dearly departed, that section is the first thing I turn to every morning. As you might guess, this move has not done much to improve the quality of print journalism in my fair city.

Most of the time, there's nothing to remark on but once in a while, there's a slice of southern American pie that cannot be bought at any price. This past week, I enjoyed such a pastry with my morning coffee.

I could not keep this to myself. I picked up the phone and called The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi. I chose her for two reasons. She's the only friend I have who gets up as early as I do and (like me) generally doesn't have to be anywhere at a particular time so I knew chances were excellent she was not ironing a blouse while she searched for car keys. More importantly, she would understand that I was not making fun of the departed's family. They were, after all, devastated. The bereaved will do some weird things. At my mother's funeral I, who usually know how to behave, tore up a spray of roses so I could put the flowers, sans greenery, on my grandmother's grave. This involved crawling around on the ground. Everyone just acted like that was normal behavior. So, having deserved it myself, I would never make fun of the bereaved.

I might, however, have a thing or two to say about the judgment of the newspaper I pay good money for.

I read Sweetheart a sentence. "She was the park where her family played, loved and resided in comfort."

"Pantster," she said. "You are making this up."

"I swear to you on the heads of all the University of Alabama fraternity boys that you ever rejected, that I am not. I could not make this up."

"I think you could," Sweetheart said. "But I accept that you didn't." You notice she did not respond to my comment about her popularity. A lady wouldn't and she's that. She didn't deny it either. That would have been a lie. A lady might, but she doesn't. "Read me some more."

Except for the names, which I have changed, this is verbatim, punctuation and all. "Now with soft skin and pretty brown eyes, the love of Jim's life, Mavis Jean Compton has now went to sleep in Jehovah's Memory alongside the love of her life "Jimo".

"Oh, no." The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi said. Sweetheart knows her grammar. She also knows it wouldn't have hurt the newspaper to help these people out a little.

"Oh, yes," I said. "I'm afraid so." I read the last line to her: "We love you Momma. See you soon in the park."

"Are you going to send me that?" Sweetheart asked.

"Oh, yes. You should have it." She has a collection of such things, including an article from her local paper about a deer that ran through a house and then the window of a pickup truck. Though terribly excited, everyone lived to tell the tale and the deer got away.

And we worry about making our fiction believable. What is the most bizarre thing you've ever read in the newspaper, heard on the news, or seen at a funeral?


  1. OMG. That was funny! I am sorry for the family's loss but for Pete's sake, someone at the paper should have stopped them! But then, on second thought...I wouldn't have had such a chuckle this early in the morning.

    I live in a small, rural town - I grew up here and am familiar with most of the people, God help me. Every morning at eight-thirty the local AM radio station plays a program where people call in with items to buy or sell. I listen to it sometimes, wincing at some of the things people will say and laughing quite a bit. One morning a lady called in, excitedly informing everyone that there were hogs loose on Fry Gap Road- breaking news. The porcine marauders were wreaking havoc with traffic! Now this is a very rural road so the traffic problem couldn't have been that bad. All through the broadcast, we kept getting updates on the progress of the hogs, including the attempt of the local police to wrangle them into a stock trailer. I nearly died from laughing. But this was serious business to the people who were reporting the chase; the ladies, in thick accents, were so excited they could hardly contain themselves, describing the antics of one particular boar hog (that's "bor hawg") that would not go along peacefully. Only in the South...I love it!

  2. Wait. Our paper is letting people write the own family member's obituaries now? OMG! Who thought this was a good idea?

    And I'm going to have to go hunt last week's papers for this because I think I need the full effect. I do feel sorry for the family...which is why they shouldn't have worry about proper grammar and sentence structure at a time like this.


  3. I have to admit, the obituary made me smile..because I could actually visualize the people.

    Cheryl, the Porcine Marauders...I laughed out loud.

    As for me, I haven't heard anything recently, but from where I came from up north--we always had an issue with cows. They'd break through a fence and all sorts of chaos would ensue.

    As for obituaries..I know that they are read diligently by the banks and the medical community. Sometimes that is the only way they know the person has passed.

  4. Don't put it past some of my distant cousins to bring a video camera to the funeral and go in for a CLOSE UP!

  5. Cheryl--That's another slice of southern pie. I've got to see if I can get that radio station1

    Kira--I guess since they've decided to charge, they feel they must let give the customer some leeway. I didn't realize they were doing it either until Oldest Friend's father died a few years ago. I can see where a grieving person could slip into a long litany of very personal things. Oldest Friend did not.

    M.V.--A cow got loose in my neighborhood last year. Not that anyone keeps cows. It had something to do with a wrecked truck. There was a newspaper article about it, complete with quotes from my neighbors whose manicured lawns are so important to them that they chased the cow. Precious, of pimento cheese fame, witnessed the whole thing but she didn't do any cow chasing.

    Laurie--Those cousins are not all that distant and you know it.

  6. Oh how I love the South! Sort of related to that (at least the subject of dying, anyway), I saw a mausoleum driving down the road the other day. Honestly. It was huge, and said something about a beloved Father, Son, and Grandfather. I hope they weren't all in there -- more likely it was all about one person.

    The truck pulling the (HUGE, HUGE) mausoleum had vanity plates that said: MAZLEUM. I suppose they must be transported somehow, but I'd never seen such a thing before.

    ROFL on the porcine marauders, Cheryl!

  7. Lynn--We do memorialize our dead in creative ways. I've seen more than one huge tricked out pickup truck with a memorial in the back window. Usually, it's done with stick-on letters which, when you think about it, is smart. As people die off, more names can be added.

  8. Lynn, the mausoleums in New Orleans do accommodate more than one person, just not at the same time. They put the body in for a year at the least or until someone else dies. Out goes the old, usually into the space beneath it and in goes the new, ahem, body. Saves space that way. The one you saw was probably just for one though; we have plenty of space around here.

  9. Oh my, how we've touched on one of my peeviest of pet peeves: memorial stickers on car windows. Nothing says "eternal love" like advertising your loss on something so permanent that you'll have it for 4-8 years (and that's a generous estimate). What do you do with the sticker when you sell or trade in the old model? Do you peel the decal off and try to make it stick properly on the new window? Do you spring for a new one? Did you buy in bulk the first time? Or is that the limitation on your period of mourning?

    Then again, maybe I was brainwashed during the six memorable months I spent telemarketing for the local cemetery...

    P.S. In addition to those of us in the medical field, florists generally read the obits so they have an idea how busy they'll be.

  10. Cheryl: Porcine marauders! Well, the buccaneers in Tortuga started out that way. They hunted boar hogs, skinned them and cured their meat. That's how they got the name buccaneers. French for Porcine Marauders. LOL! Maybe you've got buccaneers in your small town, Cheryl. ;)

    I like to read obituaries. That might seem odd but I love to walk around cemetaries too. I don't find it macabre at all. In fact, I love to read eulogies printed on tombstones, especially the really old ones. You can really gain insight into a person's life by reading obits and tombstones.

    When I pass a cemetary, I'm mesmerized by how peaceful the dead are, laying in their lots, side by side, facing the east, waiting for the day Gabriel blows his horn. Death is the ultimate equalizer. You really get a feel for this when you walk through the catacombs in Europe.

    In our town, the paper still seems to control the obits. I don't believe I've ever seen anything untoward.

    Really cool blog, Panster! ;)

  11. Jessica--I've spent some time pondering the why of a memorial on wheels too. Maybe the life insurance policy enabled the survivor to buy the vehicle.

    Kathy--Your research is showing! I recently needed to know the where my hero's dead wife was buried and I discovered cemetery tours on You Tube. I'll never get that afternoon back.