Polite, law-abiding citizens don’t get much press these days. Criminals often take the top spot in news headlines, followed swiftly by professional athletes and outrageously-acting celebrities. Their actions do capture our attention; but we soon turn the page or close the app and continue our slow-paced, ordinary lives. The articles we can relate to are found deep within the paper or the on-line post: weddings and funerals.
Weekends are usual the times to find marriage news. Years ago, the Saturday paper was filled with at least a two-page spread of weddings which were occurring that day. Head shots of dewy, young brides topped each column, leading the reports of names, places, and descriptions of gowns, flowers, and music. As a bride of the ‘70s myself, I clearly remember the protocol.
The photo was taken well in advance of the event so a copy could be included in the written submission, which followed a preordained format. I even remember my cousin/photographer, Paul Sprague, setting up in the living room to do the photo, with my mother in attendance to give advice and see to the details of hair and veil.
Now there is more variety to engagement and wedding announcements, both in form and substance. Photos included with the text often include both members of the happy couple. Sometimes the text is brief, sometimes a plethora of details are included right down to the names of grandparents and family pets (who also attend some ceremonies). There is less description of the wedding gown and music -- which I miss -- and more information about education, employment, and honeymoon destinations. Sometimes you’ll also learn how the couple met or other intimate details of their relationship.
What they all have in common is the sense of joy, excitement, and hope for the future.
The second type of social news is found every day, everywhere, and speaks to the more somber side of life. Death notices and obituaries fill pages of papers and websites. Here, too, the style has changed over time. Photos are an option, as well as the length of the obituary and the details included.
Pets as well as people survive. Facts can be fleshed out with stories, memories, or poems. Since longevity is the rule rather than the exception, many people are involved in writing their own obituary, and even encouraged to do so. It is incredibly challenging to boil anyone’s life down to its essence. The most one can hope for is to capture a sense of the person, which will connect somehow with readers, and leave happy memories with family and friends.
As a student of genealogy, I am always interested in the surnames found in obituaries, both of parents and descendants. Reading current obituaries as well as those of past decades has found me many twigs on the family tree. I learn history there too. For example, one Horrigan daughter left North Adams and moved to Denver, Colo. in the late 1800s. Reading her obituary and that of her husband, I learned that he was involved in mining. Many workers on the Hoosac Tunnel project moved westward when that job was done as there was a need for experienced miners to build a huge tunnel in the Rockies.
Reading about the passing of friends and neighbors -- both here and on Cape Cod -- helps me remember and appreciate their connections to my life. "No man is an island," said John Donne, and no woman is either. We are all part of a web of life, a network of social interactions and connections. Reading about the marriages and deaths of ordinary individuals in our towns and cities keeps those relationships alive and strengthens our feeling of belonging.
As Donne concludes:
"Any man’s death diminishes me
Because I am involved with mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls
It tolls for thee."
Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.