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Local News Update

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So, Joann died the morning before yesterday.  She was probably already dead when I  was writing the blog, but I didn’t hear about it until later, when I was wandering around in the supermarket not doing much of anything, and my phone did that thing where it refuses to ring, but the voicemail and the voicemail tone come through fine. 

I checked to see who called, and I knew as soon as I saw the caller ID what had happened.  And it wasn’t as if it was unexpected.  It made me feel sort of aimless and floaty anyway.

And I wonder how much of what goes through my mind a lot when I’m not watching it is the result of simple old age–okay, not so old, but you know what I mean–and what is the result of all the deaths in my family over the last few years. 

And not just in my family, either.   There have been two friends and a student, as well. 

And lots of these people, including Joann, have been younger than I am.

In fact, looking back over the course of time I’ve spent on tis earth, two things strike me as very odd:  the number of people I’ve known who’ve died, and the number of women I’ve known who have never married.

In the people I’ve known who’ve died category, I’m not talking about the poeple of my parents’ generation, who got old and “passed away,” as they liked to put it, at around the time you’d expect.  My mother got very upset when my aunt Loretta died, because she was seventy-nine, so young (my mother was in her eighties)–but the woman had been smoking two packs a day for fifty years.  I thought she had a constitution of iron.

But of the kids I went to elementary school with, there are a few who died in Vietnam, but also four who were killed together in one of those drearily regular car crashes on Clapboard Ridge, and one who died when the small plane he was flying crashed near an airfield in Danbury.  That was Billy, and the one thing he’d wanted to do since he was small was fly.  He got his license at about the time we were  all juniors in high school.  He was killed when we were all about twenty-six.

Then there were the people I knew in college, some of whom died of AIDS in the early days of the disease, before there were effective treatments for it.  One woman was murdered a few years ago in a case fmmous enough to have become the subject of a few of those half-hour true crime cable shows.  One of my closest college friends died o a brain aneurism when we were all not quite thirty.  Renu Narang died last December as I reported here before.  A couple of others died of breast cancer, one just last year. 

But the business with the women not marrying is just as odd, in a way.  Statistically, something like 96% of all Americans marry at least once.  But in my mother’s family, out of ten girls, only four of us ever married, and one of those was married for exactly four days when she was seventeen.  That was how long it took her father to find out where she’d run away to, catch up with her, and get the marriage annulled.

Among my women friends from college, the marriage count is just as dismal–although a woman  I knew slightly actually made the television news with her wedding, which she held at the bus stop where she met her new husband, in Manhattan.  Then they rode away on a bus, leased somehow from the Transit  Authority for the occasion. 

I have no idea where I’m going with any of this, or what it is supposed to mean, it’s just been on my mind lately.  I also can’t stop thinking of how many people I know who seem to have done not much of anything–never married, never finished college, never travelled extensively, never–well, never. 

My father used to tell me not to assume that because someone hadn’t done the kind of thing I found important, they hadn’t done anything, but there really is a state of not having done anything. 

I’m blithering.  Maybe I only think I know what I mean. 

I promise to be more cheerful tomorrow.

Written by janeh

September 5th, 2009 at 7:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Local News Update'

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  1. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Please accept my deepest sympathy.

    It’s natural to think of other deaths at such a time. I haven’t known as many people younger than I who have died – the first was a cousin who had leukemia. She was 13 and I was about 20. But like everyone of my age, I’ve got ‘my dead’; people who meant so much to me that I mourned their deaths and they are still part of my life.

    I think each death is experienced a bit differently by the mourners, and there’s no way around the grief.


    5 Sep 09 at 8:10 am

  2. I am very sorry for your loss. I hope things work out for the children.

    Certainly your family has been hit hard, but the overall death rate among people you know COULD be an observer phinomenon. I know the whereabouts of one of my high school class–I think–two of college–one dead–and two from graduate school, one of whom keeps track of at least one other. Otherwise, as far as I know, they could all be dead–which would account for the relentlessness of the alumni association. If you pay attention to more people, you’ll learn of more deaths. That said, I used to track Army “Serious Incident Reports” and got very tired of receiving death notices –in peacetime–of soldiers younger than I was then. My father tells me he’ll often scan the obituaries and not find anyone as old as he is.

    Marriage is another matter. As I recall, education is, for women, a pretty good predictor of marriage and fertility. The more education, the fewer children–and the later marriage if there is a marriage at all. I’ve not heard “family money” discussed in this context, but if there is any, that might also be a factor. Dynastic alliances aren’t what they were, and a young woman with a trust fund has less finaicial need of marriage–and a good reason to distrust suitors. Ease of divorce may also enter in. It was not uncommon for spouses to make different levels of sacrifice at different times in a marriage. Now a woman who helps a husband make it through school or the difficult years of starting a business can be discarded when the struggle is over, and she knows it. A court might award her money, but it can’t give her back the years. Talk about “the way we live now?” Take a look at Jennifer Crusie’s FAST WOMEN. Every female character over 25 has been or is being abandoned by a man–and it’s a romance. (And not THAT sort of romance, either.)

    In desperate times, family can be all any of us have. When times are good, family may be more trouble than it’s worth. Times, historically thinking, have never been better.


    5 Sep 09 at 10:08 am

  3. So sorry to hear about your SIL, Jane.

    I guess the number of people you know and/or are related to, the more dead people you end up knowing. I’ve kept in touch with only one person from my high school, no one from college (I never lived in a dorm, so no close friends), and my family has trended to two children for 3 generations. Not only that, but neither I nor my immediate family live in the area where I grew up, so I never encounter or hear about any of those people by accident.

    Big families and a large social network make it more likely that you’re going to lose people, especially as you age. My dad is hanging in there, and the genetics on his side of the family is great, he’ll probably be around longer than I will. His mother & grandmother both died in their late 90s. My mom is doing pretty well too.

    As for the marriage thing, I think growing up in the midwest in a lower-middle-class family surrounded by the same meant that *everybody* got married, men and women. At least once. I was the first in my family to attend a university, and the first to graduate with a BA. Others did AA at community college, or just took classes, but nobody got a degree until after I did.

    Some of the more religious people in the community (lots of Poles and Italians) would talk about remoter relatives who became priests or nuns, that was the only exception to getting married. I guess the midwest is about 10-15 years behind the east coast in some cultural matters.

    I think more and more these days the thought is “why get married unless and until I’m ready to have children” and sometimes not even then.


    5 Sep 09 at 9:15 pm

  4. My condolences, Jane!


    6 Sep 09 at 12:39 pm

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