January 13, 2010

USA: This is a story of three obits

. RIDGEFIELD, Connecticut / The Redding Pilot / Columns / January 13, 2010 Reflections: This is a story of three obits By Lee Hawes When I was a cub reporter for the New Haven Register about 60 years ago, one of my assignments was to write obituaries, or “obits,” as they say in the trade. In those days there were strict guidelines — keep them short, i.e., to the bare bones and inject no adjectives. Of course, if it was a prominent member of the community, you could go into greater detail. Not so today. You are now at liberty to include sentiment and even trivia, such things as “he loved golf,” or “she enjoyed playing bridge.” I got so I could grind out an obit in five minutes. Just imagine compacting 80 years in just a few sentences. One day when I was unusually tired after covering a late Board of Education meeting, I wrote a careless and highly inaccurate obit. It slipped right through the eagle eyes of the proofreader. I somehow got the funeral director’s name mixed with the deceased. The funeral director in West Haven was Seth N. Taylor. He had a commanding presence and like the man in the Kentucky Fried Chicken ad, he wore a goatee. When I called upon his office, making my daily rounds, he greeted me with a smile and twinkle in his eyes. “Congratulations,” he said. I had no idea what he meant and seeing me perplexed, he responded, “Don’t you know what you did?” “No,” I replied, dumbly. “Well,” says he, “You buried me.” I had him survived by his wife, Mrs. Harry Paramalee Dolittle. In a jocular tone he continued, “I have had several calls since that obituary. Best thing that has happened in years!” he continued. “Oh, my Lord,” I thought, “I’ll probably be fired.” I immediately ran to the phone and called Mrs. Dolittle and profusely apologized, not only to her, but her family. She accepted my apology graciously. Whew, I never heard a word about it from the editor. Thank you, Mrs. Dolittle! Some years ago a dear friend of mine, Don Cowles, passed away. We sang in the church choir together. He was also my son’s scoutmaster. Reading his obit I was shaken by how little it said about Don, so much so that I wrote a long article about his contributions of several years to the youth of Redding. The article was printed and so began my long association with The Redding Pilot. You might say it launched my column in The Pilot. Now for a third obit story. Being in declining health, about a year ago I wrote my own obituary. After all, I was 85 years of age. You can rarely predict the future. I put my obit on file and informed my wife where it was. I didn’t gild the lily. It was a simple straightforward account of my years on earth. This would spare my kids and wife the job. Be prepared. The story continues. I have a dear friend in Louisiana. Many years ago we taught in Germany together. He is a very faithful correspondent, a rare breed in these times. In recent months I have not written as much as I used to, largely due to a bad back, which hurts when I type. Sometimes I will cheat and stick an old article into an envelope with a little note. My friend is an avid writer who reads a great deal. He frequently encloses articles for me to read. I just can’t keep up. About a month ago he wrote and feeling lazy I inserted in my reply, a copy of the obit I wrote about myself and failed to inform him that I was feeling fine and just thought he might be interested. My poor friend assumed I was sending him a message to prepare him for my demise. My friend is deeply religious. He immediately put my name on the prayer chain at his church. His letters to me were filled with biblical inspiration — passages from the Bible. Of course, I immediately wrote back to say I am not yet ready to cross over (or under) into my next life. I thanked him for his kind concern. I have recently read that the consumption of red wine might prolong my life so I have begun to drink red wine. Maybe I should throw away the premature copy of my obit and order a case of red wine. [rc] Mr. Hawes of Redding is a retired teacher. Copyright © 2010 Hersam Acorn Newspapers Seniors World Chronicle adds Milestone reads: "12 Ms (miles) To= Nw (Norwalk) 1786" *it was 12 miles to Danbury as well. Source: History of Redding, CT