At the museum where I volunteer on Saturdays, we collect obituaries. The volunteers there have been doing it for so long that there is a long counter filled with three-ring binders separated by sections of the alphabet. The kind that reads Aa-Ar, Be-Ch, and so on.
When the local newspapers have piled up high enough, we get to cutting them. Some obituaries are brief, a name, date, and hometown. Others are long enough to declare them a novela. I like the long ones.
I like them because they tell the stories, and the backgrounds of the people that made up your community. The retired teachers and the judges. The guy that coached little league for decades. The neighbor you kind of knew but learned about more while reading today’s paper. Moms and grandmas. Volunteers and hometown heroes.
There are the obits where the person’s picture is one from decades ago. A young soldier who just came back from fighting in the Pacific. The happy homemaker with a bow in her hair and great big smile. The guy with a white shirt and blue jeans posing next to his 64 Impala. We all want to remember ourselves and those we love during the best of times.
Sometimes the picture is a recent one because the person didn’t make it long enough to have one from childhood and one from old age. Sometimes there isn’t a picture at all.
I like the obituaries that tell funny stories about fishing trips and household mishaps. They give me insight into personalities, adventures, and values.
Cutting obituaries and pasting them onto a blank sheet, punching holes on the sheet and then cataloging them away for posterity is a very routine kind of ritual that doesn’t seem very meaningful. Until it does.
Its importance comes to life when a grandson walks into the museum wanting to know about his great-grandpa. He hasn’t lived in his hometown for a good number of years, and he only knows the details of his grandpa’s life that his family shared. Where he was born and what he did for a living. Not too much else.
We walk back to the little library and to the long counter with the binders. We…