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THE IDLE AMERICAN
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 • Posted December 16, 2009

‘Bucket-Kicking’ in 21

st Century…

As kids,

it was risky business to mimic full-grown adults. There were more boundaries then, when lines in the dirt could have passed for deep-plowed fields.

"I see in the newspaper that old so-and-so kicked the bucket," an adult might say.

As a rule, the expression wasn’t used for close kin, but grown-ups tossed it around regularly for deceased folks on the outer edge of their acquaintance.

We youngsters knew that "bucket-kicking" meant that someone had died, and that if we repeated it, we’d best say "passed away." This was the delicate expression usually chosen by ministers, next-of-kin or political figures—particularly those running for office. (One long-time politico always "signed in" at the funeral home, hoping that next-of-kin might think that he and the departed were bosom buddies.)

* * * * *

My first

journalism professor jarred our impressionable psyches with stern instructions about writing obituaries.

Among threats was forfeiture of two letter grades for misspelling the name of the deceased, with full "death penalty" meted out for committing an additional "no-no"—the "flowering up" of the event.

"The deceased don’t ‘go to their eternal reward, fade into the sunset, cross that mighty river or enter into heavenly rest,’ they die," the prof insisted….

* * * * *

That was

then; this is now. In yesteryear, newspaper obituaries were typically run free of charge. Then, they were written in basic news style and of modest length. One editor considered most of them to be immodestly long, and he decreed that they be shortened. This19-word obit hit his desk the next day: "Joe Blow peered up into the elevator shaft, wondering if the car was coming. It was. Joe was 37."

Now, when most of them are run on a "dollars-per-inch" basis, the rules have changed. Have they ever!

Since the space is "bought and paid for" (in the words of my Uncle Mort), obituary submissions usually are printed as submitted—within the generous bounds of accuracy and common decency. Otherwise, editors look the other way, and if the deceased has "entered those heavenly gates, graduated to that land beyond the clouds, or claimed a room in that mansion in the sky," so be it….

* * * * *

Somewhere midway

between the austere obit preparation "back then" and the current "almost anything goes" approach today suits me fine.

Some of them today underscore the "puckish" personality of the deceased.

It’s a "lead-pipe cinch" that certain people, aware that their demise is at hand, may write their own obituaries, leaving only "time and place" dates to be filled in. How else would you explain one that appeared recently in a major Texas newspaper?

Listed among the woman’s survivors were "her favorite ex-husband and his favorite new wife."…

* * * * *

One of

my best friends on life’s highway was the late George Dolan, whose daily column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram brightened days of thousands of loyal readers for some three decades. Though he never thought so, he was as funny at the lectern as in print. He could enjoy a night of "baby-like" sleep, wake with no column topic in mind and still turn out a classic several seconds before his deadline. However, he faced three nights of insomnia before—as he put it—"committing a speech."

He was amused when his editor asked employees to prepare their own obituaries, "in the event of need." So, he did. "Pallbearers were credit managers of Fort Worth’s eight leading department stores," he wrote. "They carried me when I was alive, so they might as well finish the job." Dolan added that "guitarists strummed ‘Aloha’ on Hawaiian guitars." His running buddy, legendary columnist Blackie Sherrod (who, like Dolan, hailed from Temple) summed him up this way: "Just before they made Dolan, they broke the mold."

Cancer claimed Dolan in 1988 at age 65. They crowded into Fort Worth’s First United Methodist Church to honor the life of this brilliant writer who found humor in the ordinary and had no use for formality. That may best explain his burial attire—red striped pajamas and the worn-out robe he’d puttered around the house in until noon or later most days. He had a pipe in one hand and a newspaper in the other. As the organist played "Sentimental Journey," a man, 30-something, remembered "stern" instructions two decades earlier during his newspaper carrier days. "Throw it on the roof," Dolan warned, "And that’s where you can expect to find your payment." That bicycling teen likely wasn’t discombobulated by the "threat." In fact, he probably was smiling, four houses down the block, as Dolan’s cackle faded. Dolan didn’t laugh, he cackled—in a manner that only he could…..

* * * * *

Dr. Newbury is a speaker and author in the Metroplex. Send inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

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