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Reading the obits

Ronda Rich's picture

Oh, the ironies of life.

My godmother and I were going somewhere one day when she said, “Did you read the obituaries this morning?”

“Yes, I did.” I read two newspapers every morning and check the obituaries for national and local deaths.

“Who is being buried at Mount Vernon?” she asked, referring to a local church cemetery.

I proceeded to tell her, with complete recall, who it was, how old he was, where he lived and who his survivors were. What’s crazy about this – at least to me – is that I did not know the man nor did I know anyone kin to him. Yet, I could quote the complete obituary.

After I had recited his obituary, I stopped. “Oh, my gosh,” I said, shaking my head. “I’ve become Mama!”

Now, when Mama was alive, in the days before her own obituary was written, she was an encyclopedia of obituary knowledge. She spent a good two hours every day, not just reading but studying the obituary page. Her daily commentary included observations from the obituaries.

“I didn’t know he had been married before. But he had. It listed a child by another wife.” Things like that.

We all counted on Mama to read the obits and keep us posted on who died that we knew. Never once in all my life was I able to scoop Mama on an obituary. She stayed on top of her game.

Once I had a handyman at the house when she called. “Whatta ya doin’?” was her standard greeting when I answered the phone.

“I have someone here, working,” I replied, going on to tell what I was having done.

“What’s his name?” she asked.

“It doesn’t matter because you don’t know him,” I replied. He lived in another county, one in which I doubt she knew one person.

“Well, I might,” she continued. “Who is it?” She persisted until I broke down and told her.

“Jamison Jackson,” she repeated. “Jamison Jackson.” The wheels of her mind were turning. It began to come to her. “Oh, I know. Someone in that boy’s family died last week.”

There was no way that I believed, for one minute, that she knew what she was talking about. “Oh, you don’t know that.”

“Yes, I do,” she replied firmly. “I read the obituary and that boy was listed as one of the survivors.” She kept turning it over in her mind for a moment or two then she said, “Oh, I know! It was his grandfather.”

I chuckled. “You’re making that up.”

“No, I’m not.” She was resolute. I laughed it off and hung up the phone. I walked into the kitchen where he was and asked – just so I could prove to Mama how crazy she was – “Did your grandfather die last week?”

He stopped what he was doing and turned around to look at me. His eyes widened and his mouth fell open. “How did you know that?”

Now, I could say that it’s journalistic curiosity that keeps me as an avid reader of the death notices. After all, some people’s lives are pretty interesting and others, sadly, seem hardly well lived at all.

I could also say that I read them to stay up on current events and be well informed or that I need to know to whom I should take a casserole.

I could possibly argue that I’m critiquing the obits to determine how much more I need to do in life, in order to have a decent obituary myself. After all, doesn’t that cross your mind when you read one who has had stellar accomplishments?

But the truth of the matter is simply this: I inherited a morbid curiosity from my Mama. Now, I’m just carrying on the family tradition.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Flirting” and “The Town That Came A-Courtin’.” Her newest book is “What Southern Women Know about Faith.” She lives near Gainesville, Ga. Sign up for her weekly newsletter at]

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