Thursday, March 21, 2019

More than Obituaries

More than Obituaries from A Local Paper 

Ted de Grazia fresco formerly seen in The Chapel

Everyday I skim most of the newspaper except for the comics and the obituaries.  With the comics, I look for a laugh or a bit of wry wisdom tucked into the images or dialogues.  With the obituaries, I look for the faces of those who have recently died—or sometimes an obituary repost as memoriam.  I know that photos are costly, especially when they are in color.  For my parents, I wrote a simple text with no photo.  They wouldn’t have wanted the expense, so I honored their practicality.  But both my in-laws had photos and long texts which mirrored the dramatic ways they lived their lives compared to my parents’ common-sense frugality.

So maybe I look at the pictures wistfully, wondering who wrote the text and selected the photo that sums up an entire life.  Did siblings argue and deliberate over every word and selection as in my husband’s family?  Or did a friend or one child step up to the task just to get it done, as in my family.  My sister didn’t sit by either of my parent’s deathbed, didn’t deal with the paperwork and arrangements and didn’t attend my mom’s stone placement or my dad’s nearby military funeral.  But, as the eldest, I had the job of doing it all.  When it was done, I was thankful it was simple and didn’t have the complexities of too many cooks in the kitchen, or too many children trying to direct their parents’ denouement.

Thus, I selected these two following obituaries because of a) photos that were posted by their names and b) the terseness of their stories.  I wanted more for them (and maybe from them), so I took bits of truth from their actual obituaries and wove in my imagined mystery of their lives.
I.                 Gaye Jordan Dixon
Gaye gazed at her face in the mirror before pinning the cream-colored hat on her auburn hair.  “My nose”, she considered for the millionth time, is a bit too round for anyone—except Bill—to call me pretty.  But my nose’s length fits my face and balances the curve of my definitive eyebrows.    I like my smile.  I just need to remember to smile more, especially today.”   Gaye dotted both lips with her newly purchased Helene Curtis cinnamon-red lipstick.  The silver earrings, something borrowed from her Aunt Meg, poked out beneath her curls and the new hat. “There”, she thought, “Aunt Meg’s earrings are the final touch, making me the glowing bride of Hershaw, Virginia. “

Gaye gaily (yes, today the word today fit her like her hat) swirled around her apartment, before leaving to meet Bill.  She was no traditional bride; the war had broken many traditional behaviors which Aunt Meg reminded her often.  “Well, Auntie, times have changed and I am changing, too” was Gaye’s frequent response.  Her job as manager for the Navy’s on base grocery store was a big leap after high school and working at the A&P. As she walked up the concrete steps to City Hall, her navy jacket with silver buttons informed strangers whom she passed that here was a woman who walked to the tune of her own bugle.

Bill was already in the lobby, waiting for her entrance.  Gaye knew the quickened click, click of her leather pumps against the marble floor mirrored the accelerated pace of her heart.  Oh, how she loved him and he was so handsome today.  He didn’t often wear his full Navy uniform when off duty, but today was an exception.  They were finally formalizing their “matched pair” status. They were both children of the depression and brought up with the Methodist values of hard work and duty.  They weren’t youngsters and were frugal with their salaries.  And she knew that Bill had been fidgeting about this day for over a year.  He was tired of trying to keep their shared nights a secret from both families and Gaye agreed that pretending they weren’t already sleeping most nights together was getting complicated.  Particularly, Aunt Meg had a sixth sense about Gaye’s social life and Bill’s Navy Pharmacy Supervisor didn’t approve of any fooling around of his staff. “He runs a tight ship on land and sea and thinks all of his staff should toe the line just as he does,” Bill often complained.  But, once they were married, they could let go of pretenses and Bill would move into Gaye’s two-bedroom apartment.

As she walked down the hall, sunlight piercing the tiled floor, Gaye pictured the years ahead of them, once the war was over.  Maybe a couple of kids.  Raise them in the mountains out west, open a lumber mill like his dad had done in Virginia.  Sure, there would be challenges, but they’d face them together.  After the war, no challenge could beat them.

Even, she thought, in our later years, with the kids grown, she figured they’d find ways to be unretired and stay busy, happy.  With Bill’s strong constitution, matched by Gaye’s intelligence and will power, they would stroll into the western sunset with smiles on their faces, arms entwined.
In the local paper announcing Gaye’s death, I saw the photo of the two of them, probably on their wedding day.  Gaye died about six months after Bill, so her time alone in the sunset was blessedly brief.

II.               Ginny Dobbs
Ginny and Tom had a dream and, after the depression was over, ran a motel in Tucson called Dream House. They brought it cheap and it had seen better days in the 1920s when Tucson had its first burst of growth when the train tracks were opened.   Back in the 1940s, their Dream House pulled in a steady stream of day trippers along Miracle Mile.  A few babies were born on the bed sheets Ginny washed and a few lovers hid behind the window curtains she sewed and pressed.

When the freeway was built in the early 1960s, the motel income faded along with the bed sheets and curtains, so Ginny and Tom turned to other enterprises and ran them smart.  Tucson was a growing town and working folks had cars that needed  frequent repairs.  When repairs couldn’t keep cars running, the cars needed to end up somewhere, so Ginny and Tom opened a wrecking yard stocked with broken vehicles, odd pieces of concrete, and multi-colored spooled wire.

Gifted with a mind for figures and facts as well as a bouncy smile and sparkling eyes, Ginny could warm the hearts of disgruntled customers.  To sweeten the mood often experienced at a wrecking yard, she sold freshly baked goods on the side. Irish soda bread was one of her specialties.  After Tom died, Ginny kept occupied with cooking, sewing, and tending their grandchildren.  Never one to be idle, when her kids took over the family business, she became an admissions clerk at St. Mary’s Hospital.  Ginny lived a life of ninety-four years.    
As I looked at her newspaper photo, taken some time in her mid-life, she is wearing a dark dress and smiling broadly at the camera.  I consider that Ginny was probably not a remarkable woman in the larger sphere of life, but her face in the obituary column photo pulled me toward the details of the pearls in her ears and pearl strand around her neck.  Maybe Tom had given her that jewelry set for an anniversary gift.  Such a gift would have been precious to her for decades.

I can envision the scene after Ginny’s last heaving breath in hospice care--with a resigned shrug, her daughter puts the treasured pearls in a green velvet jewelry box.  She covers the box with one of Ginny’s pressed handkerchiefs and shuts the drawer.  The hospice nurse closes Ginny’s eyes and wraps a blanket up to her chin.  Ginny is no longer able to see the blooming yellow mesquite tree outside her window.

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