Monday, March 28, 2011

What I Was Thinking Right After I Died

Now that I think about it, the thoughts my title refers to would have had to have been, oh, maybe a day or so after I died. Right after is sort of misleading. After all, the obituary that was published announcing my death would have required many more moments in time than right after implies. So the title of this post could have been constructed much more better. Big Woop!  Sue me.

Here's how it started.  I was reading the obits in this morning's paper like I always do. Sunday's newspaper always has the most prolific obituary notices. That's probably not the nicest way to say it either. What's with my inability to phrase things correctly today?!?  Abundant. That's the word. Sunday's newspaper always has the most abundant obits. Today being Sunday was no exception. The outtake below is just a portion of a page of this morning's obituary notices.

And there I was in the far left hand column, with my nickname, Jim, in bold letters with six little lines underneath. And, of course, when I recovered from my initial shock of seeing the notice of my death in print I began to understand that this Jim was not actually me but someone with the same nickname and surname only. The middle initial, the suffix name, the age and the survivor listed made it clear that I was not dead after all. And I mean no disrespect for those who have passed on before us. My condolences are extended to the surviving families and friends of those listed on the obituary extract pictured here, including Mr. King. 
There were two things that struck me when I saw this notice. The first, of course, was seeing my name. But while I was recovering from the surprise of observing my name in the obituaries and was processing from a "what the...?" stage to a "Oh, that's not me" stage I was feeling some disappointment for the fact my notice was so short and concise. Abbreviated. Condensed. Like there were never any eventful things in my life worth mentioning like my neighbors' in the adjacent columns.  But that's probably because as an amateur genealogist I tend to look at obituaries as a source of information. The more, the better. Yeah, I want data for piecing together all those bits of information any historian needs to reconstruct the timeline and heritage of some one's life. God, have I really become that detached that death notices are just another note, just another entry in the log, just another clue to use as source information for genealogical files?  I hope not.

When you stop to think about it, obituaries are for the living.  Why else would I look at them every day? Yes, I'm sure aging has a lot to do with it as we all get closer to feeling our mortality.  But I'm not sure how many of us stop to take the time to write our own obituary for publication after our death.  I haven't.  Maybe some of us do, and that's fine, but I think most of us leave it for our families to put together. Otherwise, it would be like bragging, wouldn't it? "Oh, yes, I did this and I did that, and then I accomplished this, and then I went there where, as everybody knows,  I was famous for being the best this or that....etc."  Nope, I don't think so.  I think the best ones are prepared by those still living. Some pretty overboard but others clear, concise, and to the point. He or she will be sadly missed is for us, not for the departed. And perhaps, in my humble opinion, that's the way it should be. Whatever we can afford and whatever we can think of to include should be enough in every case.

I read somewhere that an old Chinese proverb describes the best life as an uneventful life.  I'm not sure what that means but when you think about it, most of us live uneventful lives. There are peaks and valleys of excitement and mundane living to be sure, but most of us are not going to have biographies written or films made to record for history our action-packed, fun-filled, glory-saturated, earth-shattering eventful lives. So maybe the six line obituary notice for my namesake in the Sunday obituaries says it best.  He lived. He died. He is survived by family. Enough said.

Friday, March 11, 2011

One Little Indian

Charles King, Indian warrior, abt 1913
The cute kid dressed like an Indian on his horse pictured here is my father, Charles King.  Or at least I'm pretty sure it's him because the back of the photograph is noted with his name.  He appears to me to be around eight years old when this photo was taken which, if correct, would mean the year was around 1913. Long time ago, right?  Right. Unless you're interested in genealogy like I am. Then 1913 is, instead of "a long time ago" more accurately described as "less than 100 years ago!" To a genealogist (even an amateur one like me) one hundred years ago can seem like yesterday. There are tons of records and documents available to anyone who has an interest in studying their ancestors' lives...census records, military draft records, agricultural records, deeds, and passenger manifests, just to name a few.  Throw in a few photographs (especially those identifying the subjects and date taken), a couple of letters, some newspaper articles and obituaries, and memoirs to enrich the official stuff and you've got the makings for a pretty healthy family history portfolio. That's what I'm talkin' about!

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  My father's birthday was March 11, 1905. That's one hundred and six years ago today. I wonder if the Indian get-up was for a birthday celebration? He looks pretty happy to me, proud even. Like a proud warrior on his war pony. With a brand new Indian bonnet with feathers!  I'm pretty sure the photo was taken in Bloomfield, Florida where he grew up. Wonder if anybody told him he looked like a Seminole Indian? Not that he did look like one but I'll bet it would have been exciting for an eight year old Florida boy to imagine himself that way. Especially since the last Seminole War had ended in Florida about fifty years previous!  The fact that the Seminoles were not a horse oriented society shouldn't have been an obstacle for an eight year old kid's imagination I'm thinking.

I guess it's just my own imagination at work here. My father told me a few stories of what his life was like growing up in Florida.  The only one I remember clearly was one he told about his seeing an alligator on the road where he walked to school each day.  That was pretty impressive to me when I was eight years old because my boring life growing up in Massachusetts couldn't compare in excitement to a story like that! He also told me he was born and raised in Okahumpka Florida which is a town near Bloomfield but I think he just said that because he knew an Indian derived town name would be a whole lot more impressive to me than one that sounded like a flower! If that's what he was thinking he was right.

I wish I'd paid closer attention to any of the things he told me about his life growing up in Florida. I should have taken some notes!  I don't remember much of anything he told me about his parents. Both had passed away before I was born. I never even saw photos of them until a few years ago when I started researching family history in earnest. But cud-a shud-a wud-a doesn't get you far in genealogy research. It's just a form of imagining things.  Like one little Indian.