Tuesday, July 29, 2014

story 50: the obituary

it's all about quality, not quantity when it comes to your writing. when it comes to stories in your personal archive.

i get it.

but i still peek at the numbers and yesterday, i'd hit story 49. that's 49 stories in the six weeks i've been at the paper and that meant that today, i would write story 50.

i walked into work knowing what story 50 would be, but i was wrong.

story 50 turned out to be an obituary.

i've never written an obituary before.

i've written about quilting bees, eagle scouts, domesticated reindeer, pool tournaments where the age requirement was 80 years or older, and wheelchair rugby.

but never an obit.

i suddenly felt like i held someone's memory in my trembling, unlearned hands.

 sure, loved ones had their own memories, but the average reader who thumbed through each page of the newspaper over coffee? what memories would i leave with the reader who had never met the deceased but was suddenly sharing breakfast with a memory in newsprint?

suddenly it seemed the task was a tiger in the corner, coiled and ready to strike if i wrote a wrong word or bungled a detail. it would be a broken heart if i failed to capture this man's essence.

i was scared to make phone calls and talk to the people who loved him. the people who'd known him most of his 94 years.

but i made a few calls.

and it turns out, the people i called really wanted to talk about him.

they wanted to talk about his love of the mennonite church. his love of amateur radio and of reporting the weather. his love of his wife and children. of his community. of the three generations of people he'd inspired.

and suddenly, sitting at my computer with pages of notes and dates and milestones, the story just sort of wrote itself. the journey he took. his years as a conscientious objector during the second world war. his years as an early weatherman before the national weather service had its act together.

his years pastoring his many flocks.

suddenly this man's life was vivid and full of color in front of me and i couldn't type fast enough. suddenly i wished i had an infinite number of newspaper pages to fill with his fulfilled dreams and passions.

suddenly story 50 became my favorite story and suddenly, when the fear and the anxiety had gone, it was hard to say goodbye to the man behind story 50.

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  1. My husband reads the obits daily. He knew the man you wrote about. He said you did a great job with the story. And he didn't even know it was the magic number 50. Keep celebrating your mileposts as a writer and blogger. And thanks for helping me celebrate mine today.