My dad died back in 1991, just a little over a month before he would have turned 63. Digging through some old files this week, I found the obituary that ran in the Johnson City (Tennessee) Press. It was a nice obituary that mentioned his service in the Navy during World War II and Korea.
As I read it for the first time since he died nearly 30 years ago, I found myself wondering what I might have added had I been in charge of writing the obituary for my dad. I probably would have at least mentioned that after he retired, dad believed his new job was to use his trotlining skills as a way to keep the East Tennessee catfish population from getting out of hand.
I read three newspapers — the Longview News-Journal, Tyler Morning Telegraph and Marshall News Messenger – every day, and twice weekly I read the Kilgore News Herald and Panola Watchman.
I read almost everything, but – like most folks – I only take the time to read the obituaries for people I knew. After reading my dad’s obit again, I was curious about what other folks added to what is typically a final tribute for their loved ones.
To my surprise, I found myself crying over people I never met or smiling at the beautiful memories others left behind for their loved ones.
I’m not ashamed to admit I shed tears over the loss of Colton Gibbs, 30 of Gladewater, who died in a wreck out in West Texas over the weekend. The fact he was only 30 was sad enough, but reading he left behind a wife and three young children really got to me.
I also got a little misty-eyed over the loss of Raymond Edward “Eddie” Nay, 85, of Overton. He was an Army veteran who died one month shy of celebrating his 61st wedding anniversary with Bennie Lou.
If you think about it, say a prayer for Colton’s wife, Katie, and those three kids, and also for Bennie Lou.
All obituaries are sad simply because someone has died, but as I continued reading I decided to focus on the lives of the people rather than their deaths.
Allow me to introduce you to a few of your neighbors.
Kenneth Grant Cox, 74, of Whitehouse played shortstop for the Birmingham Barons and set a Minor League Baseball record for “most baserunners annoyed” until he joined the Army and served in Vietnam. He later had a career as an electrician until he had a defibrillator installed and decided working with high voltage stuff was a “questionable pastime at best.”
Faye Davis, 85, of Tyler graduated from Cushing High School at 16, began working at Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital, became a Licensed Vocational Nurse and met a young man who was there for an appendectomy. They were married for 52 years, and had three daughters and a son. She later had a second career as owner of Faye’s Beauty Shop.
Joe Don Beard, 87, of Hallsville served in the Air Force, and later worked at Texas Eastman for 36 years. He loved Cracker Barrel restaurant so much he ate there several times each week, and even purchased stock in the restaurant.
Dorothy Fields Warren, 92, of Marshall loved reciting poetry at H.B. Pemberton High School. She also took folks to school on the basketball court, and later regaled her grandchildren with tales of her hoops athleticism.
Patricia DeSain, 85, of Longview graduated from Middlesex Valley Central School in Rushville, New York, and moved to Rochester to study music and opera. She married Clifford DeSain in 1953, and they were married for 67 years. On top of being a librarian at a college, a secretary at a bank and organist at a church, she taught piano to more than 400 students over a 42-year span.
After reading these death notices — or maybe we should call them life notices — I wish Colton Gibbs was still here for his wife and children and Mr. Nay had been able to celebrate 61 years with Bennie Lou. I wish I could swap jokes with Mr. Cox, get a haircut from Mrs. Davis, take Mr. Beard to Cracker Barrel, shoot some hoops with Mrs. Warren and take piano lessons from Mrs. DeSain.
I really wish – just one more time – I could watch my dad pull a 30-pound catfish off his trotline, break into a sly grin and say “I think that might be a keeper.”
Most of all, I really wish I could have a do-over on my dad’s obit.