The first thing I ever wrote that was printed in the newspaper was an obituary for my Great Aunt Vee. I was 15 and Granny said, “You like to write, don’t you?” And so it went. I sat at her kitchen table and formatted the information I collected by looking at obituaries in the Eureka Springs Times-Echo and Berryville Star Progress newspapers. I was rather nervous about writing what seemed to me to be such an important article of information, a summing up of 85 years of life on this earth. But not another word was said about it, no complaints were lodged. I was not accosted before or after the funeral by a distraught mourner accusing me of getting something wrong.
I have been reading obituaries ever since, searching for clues in these concise biographies. Clues for what, I am not always sure. Sometimes I’ll see a family name and I’ll save the obituary for family tree research. It is amazing how interconnected the families in and around Eureka Springs are. If your family has been here awhile, we’re probably related. I saw June Westphal one day and told her I thought we were related. She looked interested. I then said the magic words “Pinkley, Harp and Vaughn” and we had a lot to talk about.
Something Mary Pat Boian and I have in common is that we both admire a well crafted obituary, one that attempts to do justice to the departed. The first time I ever talked to Mary Pat was in the summer of 2000 when my friend W.O. Martin died. I had submitted his obituary to the newspaper and Mary Pat called me and asked several questions about W.O. and his adventures. She then took the information and worked it into a very nice article. I’ve been a fan ever since.
Last week, my nephew Brandon Snodgrass died here in Eureka Springs. He was only 18 years old. I can’t help but think about how small he was in my sister’s arms not long after he was born. Or how the last time I saw him it was just a glimpse of him driving a pickup, turning onto the highway. There wasn’t even time to wave.