Saturday, June 25, 2011

Every Picture Tells a Story

You've heard the joke about the elderly person who reads the obituaries to catch up on his friends and acquaintances. Well, I read them too, but for the photos. Those haunting, grainy, black and white pictures that accompany heartbroken prose. Each photo draws me in, nips at my curiosity and often tugs at my heart.

Obituary photos usually feature the deceased in their prime. Eleanor may have been 91 when she died, but her image captures a saucy young woman wearing a pearl choker and fashionable bob circa 1939. She had laughing eyes and full, bright lips that were, no doubt, painted fire-engine red. And, I'm guessing, toenails that matched.

William, whose obituary is featured two columns over, passed away at 87, but his photo depicts a cocky young lad with a square jaw and determined grin. He wears a dapper fedora tilted at an angle and, although you can't tell from the photo, I'm sure he flaunted a tweed jacket flung over his shoulder.

I'm intrigued by the vigor and vitality expressed in these faces. They look like women I'd befriend, men I'd date. Each picture puts a life behind each name and suddenly, each death feels a little more personal. Even though their passing warrants but a brief, formulaic mention, their image makes me ponder the loss of someone who was once very real.

Love stories and heroic deeds. Travel adventures and business ventures. Maybe this person was a lifelong resident of their community, now missed by neighbors who once enjoyed weekly potluck dinners. Perhaps mention will be made of their brave fight against cancer or AIDS. Sometimes family history is included and I learn that their parents emigrated from Italy and started the bakery I frequent on Main Street.

I might discover that they met their spouse on a blind date while attending my Alma mater decades before I was born. Maybe they returned to school after raising a family and got their degree alongside students half their age.

Dates on an obituary merely suggest an aged, wizened person whose time had come. But photos remind me otherwise. This was a parent, friend, co-worker, lover, jokester, athlete, activist. Someone once loved whose absence others now mourn.

And with their lively, vibrant, half-inch face on newsprint beaming before me, I too feel a twinge of sadness for the passing of someone I never knew.


Maria C. said...

I LOVE those old pictures in the obituaries! Especially when they're side by side with more recent photos.

A Fanciful Life said...

I hate to admit that I read them too - every Sunday. I don't read them for the photos though (although I do admit I like to see their younger selves from decades ago). I read them for the stories and to imagine what life was like for many in the 20's, 30's, and 40's. I imagine what my life might have been like had I lived in those decades. Good to know you share the same guilty pleasure.

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