Monday, June 02, 2014

Obituaries and Stories


Shirley Keyes Thompson and Doris Bain Thompson on Houghton College campus, circa 1938.
Almost every day, there are moments when I ponder an event in our family's past and I need/want to ask Dad and Mom a 'fill-in-the-blank' question. I remember parts of stories this family of ours passes down, but often, not all the details or the context. When a person dies, he and she take their stories with them, unless of course, they've transcribed them all or we've taped them. Those familiar stories that bounced around our dinner table are gone, except for vivid scraps. I mourn these losses.
This morning I found a folder titled 'Mom and Dad, Assisted Living.' The papers in this folder were not all about their move from their home in Seattle to assisted living. There were a few random items, one being a carbon copy of an unfinished obituary for Dad's mom, Shirley Keyes Thompson. 
I remember the story about Shirley writing her own obituary. I remember that  some in the extended family found this amusing and/or pretentious. I don't find it amusing now. I wonder if what she wrote was ever used. I hope so. Here it is, complete with her headline: Watertown School Teacher Dies.  Personally, I am glad she didn't write 'passes on.'

"Mrs. Lewell J. Thompson (Shirley May Keyes) was born in Lisbon, NY, June 3, 1891. She attended its schools until 1906 when she entered Houghton Seminary.  There she studied music, pianoforte, giving her graduation recital in June 1909.  Also, she took the academic course there and graduated, receiving her Regents Diploma in 1910. She taught grades 5 through 8 in her home town for 2 years before entering the University of Chicago where she received an Associate Degree in Philosophy of Education in 1915.
Miss Keyes married Lewell J. Thompson in February 1916 and they went went to Saskatchewan where they lived on the prairie, raising grain, for 8 years.  Born to this union were two sons, Dean V. Thompson and Wendell A. Thompson. Returning to the east in 1924, Mrs. Thompson taught school two years near Potstam, New York, and continued her studies for a Master's Degree.  She attained this degree from St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York in 1927.  She then moved with her family to Watertown, New York.  Here, she taught in Cooper St. School, Case Junior High School and later, substituted in Watertown High School - in all, about 32 years, resigning her position in 1952. Meanwhile, she lived in their home on the Black River Road.  In 1965, the farm was sold to a landscape gardner.
For 8 years, she and her husband spent the winter months in Florida. They spent the winter of 1970-71 in Aruba, Netherlands Antilles with their son and family.  Mr. Thompson became ill while there and died in April 1971.
She leaves two sons, Dean Thompson of Aruba, Netherlands Antilles and Wendell Thompson of Rochester, New York/ a sister, Mrs. Fern K. Roy of Chardon, Ohio, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren of Houston, Texas.
She has been a member of The First Baptist Church since 1924.  Her present home is 207 N. Indiana Ave., Watertown, N.Y. She died…."

I've spent several weeks drafting a series of obituaries for Dad. Each one is a little different, tailored for the folks who will be reading it: Houghton College, Seattle First Baptist Church, St. Philip Presbyterian Church, the Aruba Chronicle and Larry Riggs's (ex-Lagoite) email newsletters. Mary B. set up a website for Dad so folks can add their remembrances and stories. I hope there are many of them.

My grandmother's self-written obituary is precious to me. What she did was write her life resume, one of which she was proud. Shirley Keyes Thompson was educated and had a lifetime teaching career, something many women did not have in those early and mid 20th century times. Instead of finding it amusing that she'd written her own obituary, we should have been quite proud of her accomplishments too.

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