2012-03-23 / Commentary

Checking out the dead

It’s not a criticism; It’s an observation
Mike Cox

As men grow older, certain things become part of their regular to-do list: Planning trips based on the number of rest stops and road congestion, telling really old jokes that now suddenly seem funny, watching TV classics like Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and Matlock; chasing kids off the lawn, complaining about how the world is going to Hell because the latest adult generation is subpar, and reading the local obituaries.

I am fighting hard to resist nearly everything on the old guy itinerary but will admit to checking out the obits; at least the ones from my hometown newspaper. I started a long time ago well before my hair turned white, and joints started popping when I rose from a chair.

In the distant past, I only glanced at names to make sure no one I knew or any of their relatives had passed without my knowledge. Asking a woman who isn’t pregnant about her pregnancy is maybe the worst thing one can say. Inquiring about the health of a dead relative is close.

These days, I check the obituaries each Sunday afternoon, perusing theTuscaloosa News website carefully for someone I remember, or some bit of information that triggers a memory. The style of death notices has changed significantly over the years.

Funerals are for the living and obituaries are most definitely for those who are still breathing...and reading. Many current obits list so many accomplishments you’d think it was an audition to get into Heaven.

Every obit I read lists all the significant kinfolks, living and dead, as beloved. Arithmetic and human nature suggest this can’t possibly be true. Somewhere along the way someone got cross and problem resolution never happened.

A few months back, I read a masterpiece. Obviously written by the departed well before his demise, it was thoughtful and funny, filled with tongue-in-cheek praise and inside jokes; probably something everyone should do, if only for the sake of family unity. Last month, an obit went viral because a surviving child used the listing to take shots at his siblings. Thanksgiving will be awkward in that house for a long time.

Every adult male from West Alabama who has expired in the last three decades was a hunter, a fisherman, or the biggest Bama fan ever. Some of the deceased were all three. Not too many origami enthusiasts or collectors of fine crystal.

Before we got progressive and began listing all deaths together rather than by race, white people didn’t list nicknames except for what the grandkids called the deceased. Now each death notice gives a person’s full name but also mentions the casual handle more likely recognized.

Bubba is big in Alabama obits. One also sees a lot of Jaybirds, Cooters, Shortys, and an occasional Booger. Women’s nicknames aren’t usually listed unless the person was a local society giant and had a street name like Muffy or Jinks.

My early nicknames were either sexually suggestive or embarrassing. I would rather not have any of them identified. I have seen Roach and Tidbit listed in the Tuscaloosa obituaries. I don’t think I’d have put those in.

Maybe it was one of those unresolved family issues.

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