I am still thinking of Susan Johnson. Obituaries will do that to you, no matter when you read them.
For a while when I lived in downtown Savannah, before it got gentrified, SCADified and hotel-centric, before it got monetized with tour buses, walking tours, vegan restaurants, it felt as if I saw her or her husband Fred every day.
Then I didn’t. Then I forgot about her. And Fred.
Time will do that to you.
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Then when we have more time, when we’re not hewing to a schedule, answering to a boss, filling out a timecard, scheduling a vacation, going to a staff meeting, complaining about a new procedure, going to the dentist, breaking in a new supervisor, seeing a flat tire because we have to go to work in an hour, we have time to remember.
And then it’s too late. Then they’re dead.
Obituaries are so abrupt, so final. That person you always meant to call, to check on, to reconnect with? Forget about it. Opportunity lost. I love a line in Susan’s obituary. Her neighbors of her, the obit read, should be counted among Susan’s survivors of her. After all our grand adventures in life, the moving parts of the nuclear unit we grew up with, all the jobs, all the encounters, in the end it’s the immediate neighbors we see the most.
I read she lived in a home in Midway. How did I not know that? Would I have visited her? It made us wonder how much we really know someone else. She died Feb. 9.
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Susan was a writer. Novels, plays, nonfiction, newspaper columns, you name it. Maybe the last time I saw her was at the annual local writers March event in Lafayette Square, where we celebrated Flannery O’Connor’s birthday, sold our (mostly) independently published works and brought some attention to Flannery (she would have been 97 this year ). I could be wrong because that’s what time does, it plays trick on you. But in my mind that’s probably what spurred my memory of her.
Susan was acerbic, caustic. She got to the point. She was not Southern.
Fred, who died five years earlier in 2017, sold cars out of the former dealership on East Broughton Street. With his gift of gab and engagement he probably was good at it. I never knew a car salesman before. He broke the mould. His obituary of him, which I missed the first time around, was concise, so different from the fickle person I knew. It described him as “a man who loved music, sailing, books, a lively conversation and his devoted wife, Susan.” All true, from what I could see.
But that’s it. Fifteen words. Susan’s was 150 words. Whoever wrote Susan’s, bravo.
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Maybe she wrote it herself. People do that. It’s not like the old days when reporters researched and wrote them. Whatever. Obits are still good reading. They represent one of the most popular sections of newspapers. They’re also expensive. More monetization.
Way before I knew Fred and Susan, before they moved into their 1880 cottage off Washington Square, they took two years to cross the North Atlantic to Europe in a 39-foot ketch, all the better to navigate the canals and rivers in Belgium and France . After that they relocated from Chicago to Savannah. They wanted a port city. Savannah fit the bill. I learned all that from the obit.
There’s nothing wrong with being in the present. But sometimes I think we need reviews with friends, even good friends. Now where did you grow up? And what did you do after college? I like the tradition a friend started during the Passover Seder. Before we get into the Haggadah, the text we read, and start the meal, we go around the table and say the names of our parents and where we were born.
For me? Mannie and Rose. Detroit, Mi.
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Susan and Fred were both raconteurs, especially Fred. The man could tell a story, barely stopping to take a breath, laughing the whole way through, chortling at his tale of him, no matter how many times he had delivered it. Fred would have liked that word, “chortling.” I have loved words. The two completed each other’s sentences.
They both seemed to have drama around their pets. No surprise both obituaries requested donations be directed to the Humane Society. It’s probably not too late for anyone just learning of their deaths to contribute. I think I will. It’s the least I can do.