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It’s time to tell your story

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dean rea,musings,highway 58 heraldEveryone has a story to tell, and it’s time to tell yours.

Granted, some folks gain enough notoriety or prominence to merit publicity in the printed press or on the tube before they die.

That leaves out ordinary folks like you and me, who grow up, get married, rear children, work hard and eventually walk into the sunset or leave this mortal cube. In other words: die.

Unfortunately, many people fail to share their stories with someone who can report them when the grim reaper knocks on the door.

dean rea column,musings,cartoonSo, the next thing you do now — today — is to record the date and place of your birth, the names of your parents and family members and a brief personal history. Unless you are near death, hand the information to a family member for safekeeping and continue to update your story periodically.

“You’re writing obits today,” I was told a half-century ago as I reported for work at The Missoulian in Montana during the first day of summer employment there. Most of the death notices required telephone calls to round up information that told something about that person’s life.

Writing and printing obituaries from death notices was a standard public service newspaper practice for decades. Today, newspapers may expect someone other than a staff member to write most obituaries and to pay for publishing them.

Reporting students in journalism schools learn the standard organization of an obit, which could easily be produced automatically on a machine (computer).

As a writer, aka a journalist, I prefer to share a person’s story and a photo or two when I write an obit, which turns into what is referred to as a featurized news story.

I recall a nondescript elderly woman in the Ozark hills of southern Missouri who was my next-door neighbor. She helped rear a family on a  small farm, picked greens along the roadside for salad and lived alone during the final years of her life. She wore dresses fashioned out of flour sacks. Didn’t have a tooth in her head but wore a perpetual smile while sharing her story with me as a boy. She was an optimist, a person thankful for the things the “good Lord” provided. Knew more about the history of our hillbilly life than you could find in books.

That’s the kind of story I want to tell when I write an obituary. It’s the kind of story we all want to hear and to read about when a person “walks into the sunset.”

I have written my story, and I continue to update it annually.

It’s time for you to write your story.

Longtime Oregon journalist Dean Rea, widely known for his years as a University of Oregon journalism educator and as an editor at The Register-Guard in Eugene,  serves as editor of The Herald.

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