Comedians such as George Burns and Carl Reiner, along with plenty of well-known older folks before and after them, as well as lesser-known older folks, have quipped something to the extent of “Each morning I read the obituaries in the newspaper, and if I’m not in there I get up and make breakfast.”
Lesser-known folks to use that line would include my late grandma, who said it often. I’m a little disappointed now to know she was stealing that saying without giving proper credit, but then again I knew somebody who went to church every Sunday, crocheted doilies and made the world’s best chicken-n-dumplings and caramel cakes probably couldn’t be trusted.
I haven’t quite gotten to that point where I’m checking for my name in the obits of the newspaper. (See, kids, a newspaper is kinda like a Tweet with a 2 million character limit. Never mind. Y’all probably don’t know who George Burns is, either, and that’s a shame because he is God.)
When you’ve got a fairly common first and last name like “Chris Johnson,” it’s a scary proposition to look for your name in the obits anyway. I’m liable to see a “Chris Johnson” there on occasion and startle myself.
“Oh my God, honey! I died! I had no idea. Look!”
“I had no idea you were 95! That explains a lot, though. And you never mentioned your World War II service.”
“I was in a covert, elite Cub Scout unit. Killed three Nazis with my bare hands. I don’t like to talk about it.”
I can’t stand the thought of seeing my own obituary in the paper — mainly because if I’m seeing it right now, that means I didn’t get to write it myself as I’ve always intended. I want it to be a first-person obituary and start it with, “Wow, y’all should see the view from up here.”
I’ll then go on to describe what I’m seeing around me — beaches, palm trees, George Burns, all-you-can-drink margaritas, the all-you-can-eat-because-now-you-can’t-die buffet and the replays of the Falcons’ Super Bowls and UGA championship games that my team gets to finally win every single time.
Unfortunately, what I do see in the obituaries these days — usually in a Facebook feed — is people I know or recognize, people I’ve looked up to and people I thought were old when I was young. They were actually my age now when I thought they were old. I had no idea how young they were back then.
Last week, legendary high school football Coach Robert Davis died at the age of 77. He coached Warner Robins High School to championships, including the 1976 National Championship, and won 352 high school games. I got to know him in my early sports writing days, and he was always quick with an old-school coaching quip and always so kind to this podunk young reporter. Over the years, I would find that some of the most renowned coaches were also some of the nicest guys. And some of the 2-8 coaches were some of the biggest jerks. I think being preemptively nice might be a sign of a winner.
Last month, Uncle Bob — former Columbus Mayor and retired Army Colonel Bob Poydasheff — passed away at the age of 90. He had just emailed me to tell me, again, what a fan he was. That’s always refreshing among a sea of hate mail. But a lot of folks knew Uncle Bob as that loud, boisterous, uplifting voice in a sea of ugliness. More of us should try giving others a little boost like that from time to time.
Also last month, my uncle died of COVID at the age of 74. He had been perfectly healthy. He was my first guitar hero and played in a band for more than 55 years. Despite his incredible skills, he was always humble and reserved.
Perhaps if I can learn a little from these folks about being nice, spreading a little happiness and staying humble, I might live a little while longer and a little better, too. Maybe I’ll even live long enough to write my own obit.
I just hope print newspapers also live that long. I’d hate for my obit to be a tweet.
Get podcasts and more from Chris Johnson at KudzuKid.com.