Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Last Word Anecdote Quote

To a regular reader the ending of an obituary is, well, the end of the story. But to the professional obituarist, the ending is as crafted as icing on a cake. In 'The Dead Beat', the seminal reader's guide to obituaries, Marilyn Johnson doesn't give this section a distinct name like "the zinger," but does describe the quotes that are usually written as, "providing the splash of a living voice." Into this naming vacuum I'm going to call the section, "the last word anecdote quote." It can even come out as music, or certainly poetry.

Take the recent obituary for Chana Mlotek, 91, who devoted her life to being a scholar of Yiddish folk songs. She was the go-to person for authentication and history, filling her three room apartment with sheet music and correspondence related to her favorite subject. And, she apparently knew where everything was.

At the end of the obituary her son Zalmen is quoted as saying that recently he was in Japan and he encountered a French teacher who wanted to know the Yiddish words to a song that was being sung in French. He called his mother, and she immediately knew where to look for the music.

"In my old room, in a box, in a closet." A glimpse of a retentive life summed up in a few lyrical words.

A vastly expanded definition of obituaries might include certain songs that are written as tributes to someone. I have no definition of what to call these songs, but they should be recognizable. Take Amanda McBroom's elegy to her father, an actor who appeared in many Errol Flynn movies, receiving credit somewhat far down the list. Her song, 'Errol Flynn', starts as musical spoken words:

In a hall,
On a wall,
In a house
In Reseda,
There's a poster held by
Two nails and a pin...

Not an obituary, but we're certainly going to enjoy hearing about, "my daddy, the actor."

Then there are the lines we carry around ourselves. These seldom see the light of day, and just pop out of our own minds now and then, triggered by something that is sometimes itself hard to remember what resuscitated the memory.

Take the key I carry around with my other keys. It's a rather bulky, registered-type key that now will open nothing. I've been carrying it around now for over a decade.

This is a key
To a door
On a floor
In a building
That doesn't
Exist anymore.

It's always about the memories.

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