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A Life

Here! Have a thoroughly gratuitous picture of a deer. It has no connection to the text. Melody e-mailed it to me, and I just LIKE it.

WINNERS: Yes, yes yes, Michelle-who-is-Shelly is correct. I forgot to say, “If you are one of the winners, please send me your snail addy. My e-mail address is Joshilyn at Joshilyn jackson dot com.”

I am in the thick of END-OF-SCHOOL-EXAMS-RECITAL-PARTY-OOPS-I-FORGOT-TO-DO-A-SIX-WEEK-LONG-PROJECT-FIESTA-FIELD-DAY-OHCRAPATEST and must, before the dance dress rehearsal which happens ANY LIVING SECOND (not sure WHICH living second, but a soon one), purchase new Jazz Shoes which are going to cost the earth and purchase new Ballet Shoes which will only cost a teeny earth-shaped ball comparatively, because here, with two weeks of dance left, Maisy Jane decided to SHOOT HER LONG SKINNY FEET OUT A WHOLE NOTHER INCH LIKE SPRING TENDRILS. Which, really? Yes. Really.

Burt before I go haring off to the dance store in Marietta, let me share an obituary with you.

Odd, yes? My editor sent this to me and I have read it nine times now without ever once being sad—-well, not true. I am sad for her family; what a loss. But this obituary—much of it written by the very lady it celebrates—makes me want an obituary like this, which is to say, I want a whole real life that is lived so fully I can celebrate it, even when it is over.

Which is to say, I want to be thrilled to help build the coliseum out of toothpicks REALLY FAST MOM IT IS DUE TOMORROW and then mortgage the house and go buy Jazz Shoes, because reading this makes me remember that here, today, getting Jazz shoes and hoping the man is FINALLY going to come put in the gardenia bushes, this is my real life. I need to pay attention, and breathe, and not miss it. I want to be deeply aware of my life as I go about the glorious mundane business of living it.

Also? This lady—excuse me—-this Lady is SOUTHERN. The world is a lesser place without her.

This obit first appeared in the Idaho Statesman on April 21, 2011, and they have garnished with the usual PUT ON FACEBOOK and TWEET buttons (Which, really? We facebook obits now? Yes. Really. And blog them apparently…) and also a whole new ORANGE button that allows one to reprint the whole shebang on other sites, so I take that as permission to indeed print the whole shebang on other sites. Like, say, this one. HERE WE GO:

Ellen Harper McGarr died peacefully at home following a struggle with cancer. Family and friends were awed at her composure. Carried away on the wings of angels, she is secure in the arms of our Savior, her head comfortably and attractively tilted at about a 45 degree angle so that it rests on our Lord’s right shoulder.

Miss McGarr was born with a strong and unique sense of humor that not only entertained strangers and sustained friends for decades, but allowed her to contribute her own unique touch to her obituary. Miss McGarr was born and raised in Tallassee, Alabama, a cotton mill town populated by good-hearted people but with very few fine old families of respectable lineage. Fortunately, the McGarrs were one of the lucky families and enjoyed the benefits of sterling flatware at holidays, relatives represented in the Museum of the Confederacy, and the general satisfaction that comes with knowing who one’s people are.

Miss McGarr learned the importance of good manners from an early age and was admired by many. Miss McGarr showed an early interest in music, which was nurtured at the First United Methodist Church and by her mother, Mrs. Leonard McGarr, Jr. (Nancy), who holds a piano performance degree from LaGrange (Georgia) College, and is equally happy putting her talents to use in the piano bar at Kowliga resort as she is at various churches. Miss McGarr distinguished herself at Tallassee High School, serving as the band’s drum major and as editor of the Talla-Hi News. She was one of four graduation speakers elected by the faculty for 1978 commencement exercises. All of this was achieved while maintaining a 1.8 grade point average.

Accepted to the University of Montevallo (Alabama) (the alma mater of both grandmothers), Miss McGarr enrolled for two semesters and actually attended class for one. She then transferred to William Carey College in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where she was awarded the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre in 1982. Miss McGarr performed in numerous productions at the college, including four summer seasons of Carey Dinner Theater. Her notoriety as a performer spread beyond the campus and she was recognized frequently when shopping in the Hattiesburg mall. She never tired of telling the story about the total stranger who came up to her and asked, “Did I see you at Carey Dinner Theater last Saturday?”

Miss McGarr launched – and pretty much ended – her professional theater career with the 1982-83 tour of the Sheffield Ensemble Theater, performing in an original musical comedy called Videosyncrasies. She then moved to New York City and pretended to pursue a career in theater. When it became apparent that she was too lazy for a theatre career, she turned her attention to other opportunities. After two years as a Telex operator, Miss McGarr became the executive assistant to the president of Keizaikia New York, Inc., a subsidiary of a Japanese publishing and business consulting firm. As one of two people on staff, she held significant responsibilities. After six years, she moved to the American Red Cross of Greater New York where she served as executive assistant to the CEO. She resigned after only nine months due to the fact that she was about to be fired.

During those years, Miss McGarr’s personal life was more interesting than her professional life. She visited her family in Alabama frequently, but good taste prevented her from disclosing most of what was going on. After fourteen years in New York City, Miss McGarr bid adieu to a beloved circle of friends (many of whom were Southerners she had known since college) and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to attend the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in preparation for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She managed a few semesters before realizing what a terrible mistake she had made.

Miss McGarr quit full time study, but stayed at the seminary to work as a staff member and attend classes part time. This enabled her to remain a part of the seminary community she enjoyed so much while still quitting something. Quitting was an activity she had come to love and would enjoy for the rest of her life. In addition to the chance to quit something, her seven years in Philadelphia provided Miss McGarr with many wonderful friendships. Interestingly, she took in stride her many years in Northern cities, perhaps because she was able to meet Southerners wherever she went. Sadly, she stopped making homemade mayonnaise and began to put dark meat in her chicken salad, but she did remember how to set a table.

While in Philadelphia, Miss McGarr met her long-time companion, Miss Judy Troyer, with whom she would share many lovely vacations and several questionable real estate transactions. The Misses McGarr and Troyer moved to Idaho in 2002. Miss McGarr was employed seven years by the Idaho Department of Correction in a series of tasteful positions, and developed cherished friendships with many of her colleagues. Though unable to convince anyone to give her a weapon, badge, or pepper spray, she loved working for “The Department.” Miss McGarr was preceded in death by her father, Mr. Leonard McGarr, and by her great-great-grandfather, Peter Hurst, Bandmaster of the Alabama (Confederate) Regimental Band.

She was entitled to membership in Daughters of the Confederacy, an honor she never bothered to claim. She is survived by Miss Troyer of Garden City, ID; her mother, Mrs. Leonard McGarr, Jr.; and her brother and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel H. McGarr II, all of Hoover, AL. ARequiem Eucharist service will be held Monday April 25, 2011 at 1:00 p.m. at St. Michael’s Episcopal Cathedral (518 North 8th Street Boise, ID). Arrangements are with Boise Funeral Home Aclesa Chapel (322-3999). In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Personal Assistance Fund, Mountain States Tumor Institute, 100 E. Idaho St., Boise, ID. 83712

15 comments to A Life

  • DebR

    This is one of those obits that makes me wish I’d had a chance to know the person before they left this earth.

  • Aimee

    Well, here’s something I never thought I’d say: That’s the most entertaining obituary I’ve ever read!

    I’m with DebR — I would have loved to have met the lady. I bet she was a hoot!

  • I am sure that laughter through tears–Truvy’s favorite emotion–was very prevalent at the funeral.

    “Sadly, she stopped making homemade mayonnaise and began to put dark meat in her chicken salad, but she did remember how to set a table.”

    Hilarious–excellent writing.

  • Beth R

    I’m laughing so hard I’m crying here – what a character! “Quitting was an activity she had come to love and would enjoy for the rest of her life”

    Talk about grabbing life by the throat and living it to the fullest – I see why you wanted to share this 🙂

    PS: If you think it’s bad to have to buy new dance shoes because Maisy’s feet have sprouted again, wait until she starts adding even more “we have to have this style of shoe for this dance” to the mix! I think my mom had to buy me 5 pair of shoes at one point – now she makes me buy my own 🙂

  • Barbara

    I have a lump in my throat and tears pushing at the back of my eyeballs. Not from grief – I didn’t know Miss McGarr. But I am so sorry she has left this earth. Thanks for sharing.

  • Lindsey

    That is an amazing obituary.

  • Wow. That was brilliant. I wonder if she wrote it herself. I think she would be a great start for a new novel character.

    Facebook share buttons on obits? Really?

  • Scottsdale Girl

    That does it, I am going to start writing my obituary right now…what?

  • I’m surprised to say that obit was fantastic.

    Advice: Get your dancing shoes from Payless. They cost less than body parts. Heck, they cost less than half a tank of gas.

  • I think that is a good obit. 🙂 Though yes, condolences to her family and friends. But definitely a good obit. ( I’m so glad I looked through this comment, had typed Orbit instead of Obits.. but I’m sure her orbits around the sun were interesting as well) 🙂

  • Heh. It’s a true gift to be able to quit things without guilt or second-guessing. Also, a ton of vitality in that obit. I can’t imagine what she must have been like in person.

  • What a great obituary! Let me echo the sentiment that I wish I’d met her.

    And doesn’t that obit just scream (or daintily wave one’s hankie) for an interpretive reading? It seems like the only real way to appreciate it is to read it out loud, somehow.

    Thanks so much for sharing that!

  • rams

    I have no problem with obits on FB, but the idea of comments scares me. Still, I wish we could tag on the line “She was so Southern that even a Yankee’s first reaction is ‘Bless her heart.'”


    I have one complaint about The Provence Cure for the Broken-Hearted, and that is I think I’m going to read it too quickly. Can’t put it down.

    Unfortunately, my children WILL NOT AGREE to go to bed at 6:17 on a Friday night.

    Hmph. You would think they could see MAMA HAS READING TO DO.

    (Thanks, Joshilyn! I love it!)

  • Thank you!
    As someone who uses my creative energies to explain eloquently why I have not yet completed a creative thing, it gives me hope that maybe I can go ahead and start the first part of my own obituary. No one even has to finish mine for me, they’ll just nod. 😉