Saturday, January 09, 2016

The Obituary

Hard for me to believe that I'm ten-plus years on this blog with close to 2400 posts. I guess you'd conclude I like to write! Growing up in a small town in Nebraska, I was blessed with excellent teachers at Willard Elementary like Doris Harris who strongly encouraged writing in her fourth grade classes. At York High, my love of reading crossed paths with critical writing in Joe Berry's English classes. I admit I didn't always see eye-to-eye with Mr. Berry as a teenager but my appreciation for him and his methods has grown exponentially in the intervening decades. Age tends to have that impact.

There was another factor in my attraction to writing. As a junior, I signed up for Beginning Journalism followed by Journalism  my senior year. First year kids were called Baby-Js and those who survived the next year became journalists on the school newspaper or yearbook, or like me, both. Our teacher was a lady named Irma Trott and she signed all of her hall passes it. She loved her students and we put out a good product, even if I'm biased. Miss Trott was a friend of my folks. She lived several blocks away from us on 9th street and Mom and Dad would have her over for dinner on occasion. During my college years, she would send me a note every now and then, a kind of you're a good kid, use your talent type of message. I wished I did more of that myself. Miss Trott taught us how to think like writers, asking pertinent questions and making articles both informative and entertaining. I wrote a weekly column on the sports page of the Campus Crier. I'm sure I'd be embarrassed now to read what passed as enlightened opinions but we all start somewhere. I doubled as the sports editor of The Duke, the York High yearbook. That wasn't as much fun and required a great deal more effort.

When we were juniors, Miss Trott gave us an assignment I've never forgotten. As a class. we interviewed her for the purpose of....... writing her obituary. She was trying to get us to inquire of facts and information to help us tell the story of her life upon the occurrence of her death; facts like date of birth and family members and educational degrees. I still remember what I asked:
"Who will be the pall bearers?"

She told me she'd never been asked that before while teaching this lesson. I'm not sure she meant it as chastisement or a compliment. I have no idea what I wrote but I recall the process. probably more important in the long run than my finished product. When our mother passed in 2009, I was given the task of writing her obituary. Thanks to Miss Trott, I had experience.

Every morning, I get up at roughly 4:30 and go through my routine. I drink a cup of coffee, then check e-mail and Facebook messages, and finally go to my hometown newspaper, the York News-Times which is now online. I always look at the sports and then the obituaries. And on Wednesday morning, there it was: the obituary of Irma Trott. I was taken aback even though I should not have been. Really, I hadn't known if she was still alive but there is something about being in print which of course, makes it permanent. I read about her relatives and that she died in Crete, about fifty miles from York. It told how she was a graduate of Nebraska Wesleyan and the places she'd taught. It also told how old she was; funny, she seemed really old back then like most of my teachers. (I'm sure my students don't feel that way.) And I felt sad. Sad, because part of my youth had gone the way of all mankind. Sad, because I had made no effort to stay in touch with an educator who inspired me. I wish I had her obituary I penned in the journalism room back at good old YHS. In class on Wednesday, I told the kids about Miss Trott passing away and that someday, they might pick up a paper and read my obituary. It's the inevitability of life and the finality of death. And with God's grace, we will pass the test of how we used the years He granted us. The clock is ticking for all of us.

Applicable quote of the day:
When a writer dies you get a higher standard of obituary.
Arthur Smith

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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