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That Obituary Summer


(page 2 of 2)

It was a good clean obit, and honest as these things go. It mentioned her career as a reporter on the paper, her marriage to Roy Bolen, their divorce 22 years later. It listed the civic activities she undertook after her marriage, and devoted a paragraph to the Arts Center, where she chaired the board and led an expansion drive. Family filtered in and out of the newsroom as I wrote, more for company and comfort, it seemed, than to look over our shoulders. I interviewed both sons for vignettes. The only bump was the dog, a Lhasa Apso. Mary Louise’s younger son insisted on including Ginger among the survivors. McCarthy, known for blowing up at any hint of family interference, gave in without a fight. “Put the dog in,” he said quietly. “It’s their paper.”

After the two-star came up, the publisher himself came into the newsroom, with his much younger second wife. I’d never seen him in person before. Looking dramatically saddened, he shook my hand and thanked me, though he got my name wrong. “Your story was very dignified,” he said. “Mary Louise would have appreciated it. It’s a shame you never got to know her.”

But I did know her, at least a little. Unlike the other dead people I wrote about that summer, I’d actually met her. McCarthy and I were at the Turtlehead one night when she joined us. After closing time we went to an all-night eatery called Annie’s, for liver and onions. Mary Louise was about 55, still slender, with streaky blonde hair and a lopsided smile. She had had a couple of drinks, and she and McCarthy were old friends, so she was in a confiding mood. “I loved raising my boys,” she said. “But Roy is such a cipher. He hasn’t written a thing for 30 years. He inherited the paper, he’s worked there all his life, and he couldn’t name the press foreman’s wife to save himself. ”

She obviously still read the paper; she talked about the news and wanted to know what went on behind the scenes. She and McCarthy traded war stories. “I covered the cops, you know, before I married Roy,” she said, turning to me. “City hall, the university. I covered the recruiting scandal.”

I hadn’t had many bylines, but she recognized my name and mentioned a feature I’d written. She said it was getting late, kissed McCarthy on the cheek, touched my arm, and left.

The next time I saw her was at her funeral. The line was long, but I took my time. “Doesn’t she look wonderful?” I heard someone whisper. No, I thought, she looks like very thin old paper, like a touch would crumble her.

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About John Palen

Poet, fiction writer, retired journalism teacher, gardener, family man. For 10 years I wrote, edited and distributed an independent, alternative monthly newspaper, covering local government in Midland, Michigan. Now living in Central Illinois and writing fiction, which has been published or is forthcoming in Ragazine, Sleet, and Press 1.


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