I last encountered Albert Davis earlier this winter. He had suffered a medical issue and had collapsed off a sidewalk here in Grangeville. I stayed with him until police and EMTs could get him to the hospital. Before that, I remember him as the guy I’d see around town with his wheeled walker, sometimes pushing along some groceries or other times sitting along Main Street.
When he died last month, I found out this was the same man who helped thwart an armed bank robbery in Riggins in 1981, blocking the road by jackknifing his logging truck to stop the suspects’ escape.
An interesting story, one that would have been great to have heard the first-person details of from the guy who lived it. But unfortunately, that aspect of his life came to my attention too late, and the only record we have left of it is a buried police report and a yellowed newspaper clipping.
Obituaries are a valued tradition, the final time for most of us to have our stories told and let it be known where we made our contributions during these short lives we lead. They are an important part of the mourning process for survivors to remember and reflect upon the person, to appreciate the time we spend with him or her and the impact that life had on us.
The sad fact of these obituaries, oftentimes, is we come across details between the praises -- “She was a loving mother,” or “He was a friend to all he encountered,” --- that make our collective jaws drop. That unassuming person we saw every day was a war hero, a key participant in a landmark historical moment, a longtime actor in Hollywood’s golden age, a technological innovator who contributed toward the modern era, or the inspiration for a character in a great American novel.
But you don’t have to have been the inventor of the polio vaccine or the last survivor of the Titanic for your story to be valid or significant. We each have been participants in the events of our day, and we have stories to tell of our time that reflect what it was like to live and work in that era, tales that convey what life was like back then, far better than the dusty dates, places and names rattled off in history books.
We owe it to our society – better yet our families and children -- to have those stories told, and those need to be spoken while we are still alive.
Perhaps this means writing our own obituaries. It’s not something we’d care to acknowledge – our pending death – but the recollection of our life’s events can be affirming; we have done much good in this life that we can take pride in. More than a service to our family in getting the details down, the experience can provide relational moments with our children, allowing them access into moments we’ve not visited since they occurred. Perhaps they find they have more in common with us than they realized, that we’ve trod similar paths of difficulties and tribulations, and that life – as the cliché goes – is more about the journey than the destination.
Perhaps a life history is just too daunting a task, too overwhelming on where to begin. Then try something simple. Have a photo album or a box of slides? Pick a series of snapshots of a celebration, event or experience, and go over the details of each one with that person.
That was my idea. My dad, Edwin Rauzi, was drafted during the Korean Conflict and literally fought the Cold War as part of an Army post in Greenland. During his stationing here, he shot many slides of his time there; maintaining and repairing equipment, touring the barren landscape of rocky soil and glaciers, shuttling scientists to various points, and cooking steaks in a grill made of an improvised oil drum.
What did it mean to be in this unique place at this moment in history? We won’t fully know. I missed my chance, taking time for granted, and now what could have been a story is just a sterile statement of time of service, of place, and of images for which the context relies upon the mixed memory of family.
Who doesn’t love a good story? They are there, waiting to be told, and we have individuals who would enjoy telling those stories while the memory still persists. It’s of value to record these for history’s sake. More importantly, these people would love to be asked to relate their tales, to have their experiences and contributions of yesteryear affirmed they are still of value and importance, both presently and for the future.