Taking obituaries used to be a rite of passage for newspaper reporters. On my first night in the news room in Washington, Pa., a very stern city editor sat me down and explained that “obits” are among the most important things we do, briefly entering the lives of our readers at their most vulnerable time and helping them preserve in print the memories of a lost loved one.
Some 30 years later, I continue to learn that lesson. Many weeks ago, I had a voice-mail from a woman in Oregon asking if I’d received the “purple envelope” that contained her grandfather’s obituary. But despite a thorough search of two of our offices, the envelope was not to be found.
I called Allyson that week and told her the search had been unsuccessful but promised to remain vigilant. Sure enough, the purple parcel arrived on my desk some weeks later, and it set off a flurry of phone tag. I called Allyson’s home number; she called my work phone. I called her work; she was unavailable. She called me back; my phone’s battery was exhausted.
I actually heard her live voice briefly on a Saturday afternoon as I was giving my niece a tour of the DU campus, but my phone promptly lost the signal (ironically enough, just outside the Daniels Cable Center). Finally, this week, we connected, and the obituary of Desmond C. Hughes will appear next Wednesday in the Clear Creek Courant.
At Evergreen Newspapers, we can receive eight or 10 obituaries on a busy week, and we do our best to print them all accurately and respectfully. But every once in a while, something in an obit or in the voice of a survivor stays with me for many weeks after.
I don’t know what that thing was with Allyson. Perhaps it’s because she shares the first name of one of my very best friends. Or maybe it was the obit itself, which somehow reminded me of the night I wrote my own father’s obituary on his typewriter in the emptiest house I’ve ever been in. Or it could have been the obvious sincerity of the handwritten note that arrived in that well-traveled purple envelope.
Allyson told me in our first actual conversation that she works as a teacher, and it’s no stretch for me to imagine that her grandfather was very proud of that and was honored to have her as his granddaughter.