I've returned to writing a few 52 Faces profiles in addition to this column in recent months. I'm a people person, so it's a pleasure to interview local folks about the lives they've lived.
As the teaser for 52 Faces says, everybody has a story to tell, and I've found that most people are willing to share their personal history, even if sometimes things are left out or glossed over. Into each life a little rain must fall, after all, and most of us don't like sharing when we got soaking wet.
I wrote the piece about Mark Kimzey in today's Lifestyle section after interviewing him at his funeral home in Mount Pleasant last week. Talk about an eclectic, charming character. His interests range from playing the bagpipes — he is of Scottish descent — to playing the pipe organ to directing his church choir to acting in community theater productions.
I wasn't sure what to expect heading into the interview. My experience with funeral home directors is that they're a pretty solemn, serious bunch given the occupation they're in, though I would note that Burton and Joanne Prugh are a very interesting couple as well.
I found Mark Kimzey to be gregarious, outgoing and chatty. He didn't hesitate to answer any question I asked him. With all of his various community activities and volunteerism, Mount Pleasant should be very pleased he chose to buy the Weir Funeral Home 17 years ago.
It's too bad everyone doesn't get a chance to tell their story. This paper tells 52 personal stories a year and has done so for the past 13 years or so. But that's still just under 700 stories.
Most people only get their story told — and briefly — when they die and the family publishes an obituary in the local newspaper. Often it includes just the facts, ma'am. Birth, death, parents, hobbies maybe, children, siblings, occupation, military service, if any.
I read, wrote and edited literally thousands of obituaries during my 34-year career in journalism. It was just part of the job. But I also found it interesting, especially when families would pay to put in whatever they wanted to say about their loved one, like being survived by a pet pot-bellied pig.
So it was fun to read the opening of an obit in last Tuesday's paper, which I'm pretty sure was written by the deceased woman, who obviously had a marvelous sense of humor. Here's what the first paragraph said, if you missed it:
“Betty Jean Sisco kicked the bucket, gave up the ghost, is bereft of life, bought the farm, is no more, left this world, has ceased to be, c'est fini. (I had to look up that last one. It's French for “it is over” or “it is finished.”)
But it goes on:
“A preferred way to exit this life would have been with gooey chocolate in one hand, the reins of a noble steed in the other, galloping down a path between flowers on one side and trees filled with singing birds on the other, shouting “Wahoo, what a ride!” Reality is, she crossed over on September 30th at 11:50 a.m.”
It's a fairly long obit and is sprinkled with humor throughout. It reads like someone I would like to know, and I have no doubt she would have been a good subject for a 52 Faces profile. But, of course, it's too late for that now.
Whenever my wife or I pick up a Des Moines Register, we always turn to the obituaries and peruse them, even though we have no idea who those people were. Many of them are written in a similar manner to Mrs. Sisco, so you can really get a sense of who the person truly was in life, and the most fun reads are always those that exhibit a finely honed, often self-deprecating sense of humor.
After all, none of us are going to survive this life. We're just living until we're not, just like every other plant, animal, fish and creepy-crawly critter on this planet.
The saddest obituaries are those short ones when a person has simply outlived all of their friends and family and thus there is no one to provide much information about their life. They were born, they lived a long life, they died, and the funeral service is Saturday. But you know there had to be much more to their story than that.
So if you know someone who would make a good candidate for a 52 Faces profile, please give Features Editor Craig Neises a call at 758-8148 and put a bug in his ear. He would love to hear from you, and I would love to tell their story.
Randy Miller is a retired city editor for The Hawk Eye. Readers can reach him at email@example.com.