Obituaries and police logs, the stuff of life for any local newspaper, are religiously my first read in the morning, and, I have to say, sometimes my only read.
Obits, in particular, pique my interest, especially after having lived in this region for so many years. I read them for the news and personal connection, of course, and also for their style. Many are written with grace and candor, and from time to time there is lyricism and humor, and, on occasion, ferocity.
Nina Lentini, a journalist who once worked in Norwich and New London, maintains a regularly updated online blog she calls “Nina Lentini’s Life Without End: A collection of lines from obituaries that enlarge our appreciation of the human spirit.”
Last year, for example, she recorded one such line that I, too, wrote about, the opening sentence to the obituary for Jeane Swatzburg, whom we both knew: “Well, let me tell you! I had an amazing time while I was here on Earth. Sadly, there were other plans for me and I had to leave my physical form at Yale New Haven Hospital, at age 73, on Aug. 26, 2017.”
I don’t pursue these flashes of spirit with anywhere near Lentini’s fortitude, but I have collected a few through the years that I still read and reread and pass along to friends.
Consider this one from The New York Times of Feb. 1, 2001. The headline: “Betty Kenward, 94, snobbish chronicler, dies.”
Written by Warren Hoge and datelined London, it read, in part, “A snob and proud of it, Mrs. Kenward composed numbingly undramatic accounts of parties, with long lists of names preceded by unfailingly complimentary adjectives and with their relative importance encoded for her privileged readership by idiosyncratic punctuation. Ordinary guests names were set off from one another by mere commas. But Royal Family members and others of note received semicolons.”
The obit later informed readers that “she considered gossip columnists “gutter rats.’”
Also from The Times, and published on Nov. 25, 1998, was this farewell for Luba Elianoff, who, as it happened, was the mother of a longtime Stonington resident, the late Anna Lou Aldrich.
Written by Robert McG. Thomas Jr., it began: “Luba Elianoff, a Latvian-born little old linen lady whose bearing was a bit too regal, whose spirit was a bit too fiery and whose embroideries were a bit too elegant to be called that to her face, died on Nov. 17 at her apartment on Riverside Drive. She was 96 and had much preferred to be called the Queen of Linens.”
The funniest line in the obit follows a discussion of how she would buy stock sheets and pillowcases at wholesale prices, replacing the standard border with lace and other elaborate embroidery and reselling them to Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor at what seemed to be exorbitant prices.
“As one store buyer once told her: ‘That’s not a price. It’s a telephone number!’”
It has been 10 years since Walter Hauck Jr., 73, of Bishops Cove in Stonington, died. His obituary, which he clearly penned himself, was published on Jan. 19, 2008, in The Day.
It begins: “Walt Hauck (Walter S. Hauck Jr) of Stonington CT died at the age of 22 Celsius, leaving his wife Mable and son Walter III. Death resulted from terminal maturity and lung insufficiency due to a long time tobacco addiction.”
Then, after recounting a distinguished and enterprising career in adult education in New Jersey, the obit continues:
“Clandestinely, he was Candice Byrd, a Grand Helmuth of the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, Fred Feliner, a cat who disenfranchised a bogus diploma mill, Dominic Haire, a proponent of the multi-page run-on sentence, and many other alter egos …
“A life-long communicant of the St. Louis Cardinals encouraged his multiple but unsuccessful applications to the College of Cardinals and the papacy. Despite a reputation for looking smart in a floor length dress and skull cap, his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church and advocacy of atheism were likely to have been the rationale for the Vatican’s spurning of his candidacy.”
The obit ends with notice of a farewell party later in the month at Bishops Cove with the admonition: “At the request of the deceased, the farewell will avoid any mention of god or the after-life. Friends are welcome to tell tall tales.”
You didn’t go gently, Walt Hauck, and may you rest in mirth.
Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist for The Day in New London. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org