Friday, June 1. 2012
I've had several people older than myself tell me that they always read the obits because that's where people they know are most likely to show up. The unspoken corollary is that if you don't people you know are likely to slip on by unnoticed. Sometimes someone will tell you when someone you know dies, but often that's not the case. For instance, I only found out about my uncle Bob's death (July 20, 2004) a year or two later, when I dropped by his son's business and asked how his dad was doing. I knew Bob had some health problems (and that he was 79), but had no idea how grave they were, nor was I aware that he had moved back to Wichita from Las Vegas a few months before. He called me in January, 2004, and told me that his second wife, Nellie, had recently passed away. My wife had seen both of them in Las Vegas a few months before, and the year before that we had driven to Las Vegas to get married -- Bob and Nellie were our witnesses, as well as guides and hosts. That was my fourth trip to Las Vegas, and each time I sought them out. They, in turn, flew to Wichita for my father's funeral in 2000.
Actually, worse than not hearing when he died was not knowing he came back to Kansas. Having driven half way across the country to see him, I certainly would have trekked to his son's house in El Dorado, or to the Veterans Hospital in Wichita, where he spent his last days. He was two years younger than my father: in many ways his mirror image, in some his mirror opposite. I had known him every day of my life. When I had my worst problems as a teenager at home, I ran away and sought shelter at his house. He always meant a lot to me, and never more so than the last few times we talked. I should have paid more attention, but that's true of so many people -- even of my parents, who demanded (and got) vastly more attention.
I've generally avoided going to funerals, and doubt that I've been to more than a dozen, including my first wife in 1987 and my parents in 2000. The first I can remember was a great-uncle, Dal Cotter, in 1960 -- a miserably hot day in Arkansas, with what seemed like several hundred people unable to cram into the church. The second was my grandfather, another hot day in 1964. I managed to miss the next two important ones in my family: Lola Stiner (my mother's oldest sister) in 1968, and George Hull (my father's older brother) in 1969. A few years later I left Wichita, putting more distance between myself and my family. I barely noticed as my mother's siblings passed on: Clagge (1974), Ted (1981), Murph (1990), Ruby (1992). My grandmother died in 1987, but I hadn't seen her since about 1974, so that seemed more like a data point. I returned to Wichita in 1999, and my parents died in early 2000, as the passing of the older generation took on for me a greater poignancy, perhaps even nostalgia.
Since 2000 I've been to three family funerals: Bob Burns (2003) and Zula Mae Reed (2007) were cousins close enough I made a point of seeing when I could. And Yona Julian (2007) was the 36-year-old daughter of a very close cousin, and granddaughter of an aunt I visited often. I felt like I should have attended the funeral of Edith Hixon (my mother's last surviving sister), but the family played it down and the distance (San Jose) was impractical. Edith wasn't able to attend my mother's funeral, so we drove to see her in Arizona -- a better option than the funeral.
Still, the main reason for reading obits is information. One name I saw recently was Billie Appelhans. She lived two doors from us until I was about thirteen, then moved to the west edge of town. Her oldest son, Terry, was two months younger than me, my closest friend all that time. I only saw her a couple times after that -- most recently at my mother's funeral, where she came up and challenged me to identify her. (I couldn't.)
All this is a prelude to noting the obituary I recognized yesterday:
Last time I saw Glenn was when he came over for dinner, along with his wife Lucille, her son Don, and his wife Karen. (Don't have it in my notebook, but judging from mail seems to have been June or July 2005.) I made something Chinese, and dinner seemed to go nicely. I had only seen Glenn a couple times before, but I've known Lucille and Don all my life. She was married to Uncle Bob, and Don was their only child, a year older than me. Theirs was my second home for a few weeks in the mid-1960s, but I rarely saw them after they broke up (sometime late-1960s) and Bob married Nellie. Lucille had been a stay-at-home housewife, but on her own got a job at Beech Aircraft. There she met Glenn. She also befriended my mother's sister Ruby, who had worked there at least since the 1940s, and who was also divorced. For some time after that, most of what I heard about Lucille was from my mother griping that she was driving a wedge between her and Ruby. But at one point I asked my mother about Lucille, and we drove over to their old house, where she was living with Glenn. She recognized me immediately, and made a big fuss over how happy she was to see me.
The big surprise in the obit wasn't that Glenn had died. It was that Lucille had "preceded" him. I had missed that in the obits (December 20, 2010; she was 83), and no one told me. I had been thinking about her a lot recently. One time while driving around I tried to find the house, but didn't know the number and nothing looked familiar enough. Last week I took two DVDs of home movies that my father made, mostly 1956-67, with me to Arkansas and showed them three times. They jump around a lot, but there are 10-12 sequences with Lucille in them, half that many with Bob, a few with Don, and lots more with other Hulls -- even if you don't count my nuclear family -- that Lucille would recognize. I've never shown them to any of the Hull relatives. Would have been fun to show those and talk about those times.
There have been other people recently I've thought about and looked for, only to come up with an obituary or death notice (FamilySearch turns out to be useful for nailing down dates, but little else). Johnny and Hildegard Kreutzer were my parents' closest friends when they got married. We went to their house on the far west edge of town at least once a week into the early 1960s. There are several pictures of them in the DVDs, as well as pictures of the rabbits and the dog they gave us. I spoke to Johnny briefly at mother's funeral, but never followed up (other than driving around and not recognizing their house). Turns out that Johnny died in 2007, age 91, followed by Hildegard in 2008, also 91.
Another person I talked to at my father's funeral was Sister Rose Agnes Gehrer. I'm not sure exactly how we're related, but I recall going to visit some distant cousins named Gehrer in Wichita. My grandfather had a sister named Agnes Hull (1903-47), and she married Otho Wade (1891-1972), and I believe they lived on the same farm that great-great-grandfather Abraham Hull homesteaded in the late 1860s. We went there a few times when I was young: looked like somewhere the Dalton Gang would hide out in, with a broken-down house on one side of a gulch and a dozen small cubby holes on the other -- I think they were dug out to shelter sheep, but they always looked to me like they'd be perfect for rattlesnakes. Zula Mae took us to the homestead last time I saw her. We drove through a field carpeted with grasshoppers, and the roof had caved into the house, but other than that it was quite recognizable. Anyhow, I think the Gehrers are somehow related to Otho, but at any rate Rose Agnes was close to Zula Mae, so I figured it would be good to follow up and keep track of her. However, I lost the contact and never did. And when Zula Mae died, I found out Rose Agnes was already dead (turns out, a couple months earlier in 2007).
All this got me to wondering who else had passed away that I didn't know about. My cousins on my mother's side are all older than me, ranging from Ken Brown at 68 to Orbrey Burns at 87. I just saw three in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and heard of several more. There are some more I'm in more or less regular contact with, and others I'm not, so I tried searching out the latter. Some I couldn't verify one way or another -- not many significant computer profiles in that age group (I seem to be the only one with a blog, for instance). But I did verify that two of Edith's four had passed: Joe Ben Hixon (in 2009) and Verdell Hixon (in 2011; obituary here). I only remember meeting them once, circa 1960, when they brought Edith back from California for a visit. (I may have seen them in 1956, when we drove to California, and/or before 1952, when they still lived in Oklahoma, but I don't recall anything that far back.) I had heard that Joe Ben and Verdell were estranged from their mother, and at one point talked to their sister about it, but don't recall the details. The obit suggests that Verdell was gay, something I never had a clue to.
I didn't appreciate this for the longest time, but I come from a very interesting family.
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