Friday, November 16, 2012

I read the obituary page almost every morning. It's not that I'm maudlin, I just find people's lives interesting. Now, not all obituaries are created equal. There are the "just the facts" obits, and then there are the "He was a titan of industry and won lots of awards and served on lots of boards and committees" obits, lengthy to be sure, but not actually revealing.

This morning I read of the best obituaries I've ever come across, and I wanted to share part of it with you:

Born on a farm in Lincoln, AL, one of nine children, she picked cotton, pulled fodder & stripped sorghum. Being chosen as housekeeper & nanny for an Aunt in town afforded her the ability to leave the country, finish school and meet the love of her life, JB. He was the local iceman and Uncle Richie let the ice melt so "Fan" could see JB more often. They married in '38 and moved to Florida in '41, where JB's entrepreneurial spirit blossomed… she worked beside him in all of his endeavors from a small gas station, an orange grove, installing jalousie windows and finally, becoming one of the first licensed swimming pool builders in Florida. She was proud to have been born during the Great Depression and learned not to waste anything. From an early age she would pull threads from flour sacks and use those to sew little doll clothes. Her husband's success was not wasted on her as she appreciated every different color and type of fabric she was able to buy… She used all that creativity to make a good home and raise her children… one in each of 3 different decades. Sewing formal dresses and skating skirts in the 50's, making waterski long johns and cooking burgers in the 60's and then rows of ruffles which turned into mod bell bottom pants for her last little "surprise". This is the way she showed her love, by making and doing things for others, from clothes she made for the Russell home, the thousands of "bone" shaped pillows and knitted preemie hats during her volunteer days at Florida Hospital, and the countless quilts and crafts and collectibles she shared.

There are so many details here I love. She pulled fodder and stripped sorghum, she pulled threads from flour sacks to sew doll clothes. An aunt "chose" her to work as her housekeeper and nanny in town. There's a novel in that line alone! Maybe Fan was the poor relation, and her aunt deigned to give her work. Maybe she slept in the corner of the kitchen and was up before dawn stoking the woodstove. Did she miss her eight brothers and sisters? Or was she happy to be done with picking cotton?

Bone-shape pillows! Sorghum! Jalousie windows! Formal dresses and skating skirts! This obituary should be used to teach writing everywhere. It's all in the details, people. I read this obit and had a sense of who "Fan" was and how she lived. By the end I felt like I knew her.

Now I'm wondering who wrote this obituary. Was it one of Fan's children? Or was it Fan herself? I'd vote for one of her children, because there's appreciation in every line. Which leads me to wonder ... what will my children remember about me? I hope it's not the mess or the crankiness, but rather banana pudding and trips to the beach, the handknit socks and the quilts and the time I grew wheat in the backyard.

I hope this isn't too morbid. I think a good obituary makes you appreciate a life well-lived, and I was glad that this morning I got to know Fan just a little bit. May she rest in peace.

Read more here:


Heather said...

What an amazing woman! Thanks for sharing this.

wayside wanderer said...

Oh wow, this is really great. I was wondering who wrote it as I was reading, too, because that is not your typical obit. Three children in three decades? Lord, have mercy. She sounds like a true Proverbs 31 woman and wouldn't her life make a great memoir?

Gumbo Lily said...

Oh my, I love this. It's pure poetry. It's funny you printed this obituary because I recently went to the funeral of a rancher we knew, and one of the greatest things that happened at the funeral was when the grandkids each got up and told stories about "Richie," as they called him. We laughed until we cried. From his obit: "Over the years he was privileged to ride a few good horses and have one great dog."

I might have to write about this fellow too. You've inspired me.


Angela said...

Fabulous Obituary- so MANY things about this lady make me wish I had known her.
As I get older, I find it encouraging to turn to the Obit pages and discover mine is not there yet!

I suspect mine will say 'she wanted to make history, but she ended up making costumes for school plays'

Tracy said...

I think you're right - there's a book waiting to happen there. I know this amazing author........

Pom Pom said...

You have such a fine tuned eye and ear for story, Frances. I love that about you!
Yesterday Dillon said, "It's so weird reading a book when you KNOW the author!" Isn't that cute? He knows you now!

GretchenJoanna said...

I wonder who wrote her obituary - one of her children? In which case she also probably had something to do with teaching that child to notice details and to do a good job at writing whatever was at hand, a personal letter, an essay, an obituary. Yes, very inspiring, and a good writing lesson (In the way that reading your blog posts is). Thanks very much, Frances!