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?