Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


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The life and death of Barbara Ann Weaver

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I did not know Mrs. Weaver, who died January 18th, at all.

Until now.

I think it was her photos that caught my eye in the obituary section of the Los Angeles Times, a section I generally skip, as does everyone else probably unless they’re looking for the writeup of someone they knew. In both photos, one of her young, one of her old, she’s beautiful and radiant. In the younger one she looks filled with promise; in the older one she is filled with joy. Judging from her obit, she fulfilled a lot of that promise.

According to this piece, she loved to sing, was a skier and a horseback rider, a dancer, a valedictorian, earned a degree in English and a Phi Beta Kappa key and then, 30 years post-graduation, got a Master’s in reading instruction from Loyola Marymount.

She played golf and other games, indoors and out.

She married, and had children, lived a very full life, then died.

We should all be so lucky.

Again, I did not know Barbara Ann Weaver. But I would also say she was lucky in death. Because I don’t know anyone else who has ever gotten an obituary so beautifully written.

Here’s the opening:

“Barbara Ann Weaver, December 4, 1922 – January 18, 2018, rode her sorrel pony Skookum bareback over the wheat fields her daddy farmed in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, skied those hills on pine planks with her beloved siblings Fritz and Margaret, learned to read and write in a one-room schoolhouse on Coppei Creek, learned to dance as her aunt and uncles played at the community hall by the homestead on Jasper Mountain, graduated valedictorian of Waitsburg High School’s class of 1940, went to Washington State University on a scholarship and earned a degree in English and a Phi Beta Kappa key and made her professors cry when she couldn’t stay in 1945 to help teach all the returning GIs.”

Whoever wrote this has a thing or two to teach Cormac McCarthy, and I say that as a fan of Cormac McCarthy. Listen to the rhythm of “rode her sorrel pony Skookum bareback” and “learned to dance as her aunt and uncles played at the community hall by the homestead.” The whole thing is positively stuffed with active verbs. “To be,” with its variants of “is” and “are” and “were,” is the weakest verb in the English language; you won’t find one iteration of it in that entire long, plainspoken but poetic sentence.

Here’s another evocative example. Note how the line lengths and cadences vary:

“Raised eight children with boundless love, infinite patience, sly humor, and humble wisdom. Weathered many a storm through her steadfast faith in God. Read voraciously,  watched ‘Days of our Lives’ loyally, completed the Times crossword diligently, played Scrabble and Bridge formidably, and generally enjoyed golf except when she was four-putted.”

Again:  not one “to be” verb; instead, we get a clever anaphoric use of adverbs that pulls us right along from the divine to the commonplace. I like how it lands on the joke, and how that tiny flaw humanizes Mrs. Weaver and spares her from hagiography and our disbelief. This was written by a writer. Among all her other accomplishments, we can add this one:  She merited the time and effort and tremendous skill someone applied to writing this record of her life.

Here is how the biographical section ends, before the list of those left behind: “Was, in short, a goddess who surprised us all by not being immortal. We feel so blessed to have known her.”

This is the most effective piece of writing I’ve come across in quite a while. Because it leaves me wishing that I, too, had known her.

5 Responses to “The life and death of Barbara Ann Weaver”

  1. Dan Says:

    Art has a way of turning up in odd places. Good spotting!

    Ad what do you want in YOUR obit?

  2. Lee Wochner Says:

    “To be continued.”

  3. Joe Stafford Says:

    Your best comment: We should all be so lucky.

  4. Mike Folie Says:

    Beautiful, Lee. And so sharp of you to pick up on it where you found it. I’ve never seen adverbs used so well. M

  5. Richard Hamner Says:

    Quite so. The things I miss by not reading the obits.

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