As a youngster growing up in a major metropolitan area, we had access every morning to not one, but several major metropolitan newspapers. Despite offering the news we now receive via our cell phones, the newspapers had regular features that begged contrast and comparison. If my grandfather didn't bring one on his morning visit, he brought the other. My mother preferred the Sun Times, but usually wasn't one to turn down something for free. The small weekly from my father's hometown appeared once a week, his birthday gift from his mother. The news was less, but the features were richer.
I used to enjoy reading the various horoscopes. Sidney Omar in the Sun Times often contrasted sharply with the horoscopes offered in the Tribune. It was worth it to have a variety of comics to read. When the Sun Times went to a tabloid, easy-to-carry format, I used to enjoy the Tribune for its sections, as well as its large coverage when saved to cover surfaces for messy craft projects. My father's weekly held fascinating stories of weddings in all detail, including the fabric for both the brides' dresses as well as those for the bridal party. It was from this paper I first learned about alencon lace and peau de soie satin.
But there was one section of any paper that simply fascinated me: The Obituaries. My mother called them the Old Ladies' Sports Section. This confused me for years, but not wanting to appear stupid at eight or nine, I never said anything.
The Tribune and Sun Times varied very little in their obits. At that time, nobody deviated from the format. LAST NAME was emblazoned across the column, followed by date of death, date of birth; "beloved husband/ wife" if there was one; the names of the children, spouses and therefore in-laws to the deceased regulated to parentheses; number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but no names; location and time of the wake, location and time of the funeral; "Please omit flowers" if no flowers were wanted, and no suggestion whatsoever as to whether the bereaved preferred donations to the American Cancer Society or the deceased's parish. It simply wasn't done.
The weekly from my father's town of origin gave a brief biography for each and every dead resident. Even in the sad case of infant, children and teens, there was a biography to be had, one way or the other. The local reporter spent a lot of time attending not only wakes and funerals, but the standard funeral luncheon. Whatever was offered by the ladies' aid of the deceased's church was painstakingly detailed.
My sister and her best friend took up putting on skirts and blouses to attend local wakes. We lived on a business street, and had access to not one, but three funeral homes, one on the way home from school. To this day, I have no idea why they were fascinated with open casket wakes (and they are indeed generally caskets in this country, not coffins). Everybody predicted they would both go into business together as directors one day. I think they did it for the snacks frequently offered back then. "Snacks" didn't mean stuff out of a bag, junk food, either. They didn't report on them, but I considered it strange. My mother didn't stop her, but I'm not sure she always knew when she attended one. My sister and her friend often used the ruse of "making a visit" at our parish church, which back then also involved a skirt and blouse.
These days I don't receive a daily paper, nor do I purchase one. They take up too much space as it is on Sundays, the ones I buy for coupons. The only horoscopes I encounter are the ones on friends' Facebook pages. Obituaries of those I know come the same way, or are texted from family. I still get obits from :down home" though. I've signed up with the funeral homes there to receive emails when somebody passes. I don't want to miss an elderly relative who might kick the bucket. I only like to read the ones where the deceased is at least 85 years of age. The ones about infants, children and teens still bring tears to my eyes.