Thomas Paine, Mo Rocca and prettiest girl ever

While my beautiful wife Patty and I have been in isolation like millions worldwide, I’ve made use of my time by contemplating what none of us ever want to think about: one’s own demise.

I’ve also pondered Thomas Paine, a guy named Mo Rocca and my memory of the darn-tootin prettiest girl in the history of the universe.

I decided to pen my own obituary after attending the memorial service of a friend who wrote his own obit. It sounded good, more enjoyable and undoubtedly more accurate than his family could write. He passed away in the early coronavirus days when self-quarantine was not yet a thing

My friend was a writer and I suspect he believed people get too serious in obits, so he decided to write in some fun details—like how his father, an old-time pilot—flew over the family farm, which was snowbound, and dropped a note to let the older children know that their mother had given birth to a son in a nearby city hospital.

Tragically, too many grieving families are now fretting over what to write about their loved ones lost to coronavirus. I’m not planning on catching the illness (no one does), but, just to be safe, I decided time spent on my obit might be a practical gift for those I leave behind.

So, after sighing, contemplating, sighing again, I got off to a stellar start, inserting the “?” at strategic spots where facts are yet to be determined: Gary Kimsey died on _?_ at _?_. He was _?_ years old. During his life, he….

My brain power suddenly drained away at the “he….” Sigh. Which of my great deeds should I record? Sigh. The time I almost died from exhaustion from going on a long hike without taking enough water? Or the time when I was six years old and I learned maybe it’s not a good idea to roll around in a mud puddle with your Sunday school clothes on? Or perhaps my great discovery of two arrowheads in our backyard (my kids thought it was pretty neat) or—more sighing—maybe I should just make up stuff?

After destroying too many brain cells pondering how great Gary Kimsey should have been in life, I moved on to a book, Mobituaries, by Mo Rocca, a correspondent on CBS Sunday Morning. Mo—he seems like a guy okay with being called by his first name—updated obituaries “for great lives worth reliving.” Maybe Mo’s obits could give me ideas for making my life great in my obit.

I’m an occasional nonfiction reader (give me a good ol’ thriller novel instead), but my uncannily patient friend Jerry Kelsey, who has miraculously put up with me since we attended high school together in the late 1960s, had kept saying the word Mobituaries to me since the book was published in late 2019.

So, just to appease the Kelsey chap, I finally decided to get it on my Kindle. I checked Amazon and then asked myself, “Is Mo really worth paying $14.99?”

Well, shucks not. I suspected Mo would squander my $14.99 on a lavish lifestyle.

On the local free library website, I discovered (hey, maybe I can use this discovery in my obit?) that Mo’s a popular dude. However, I had to wait 10 weeks because so many people were in the online checkout line ahead of me.

Eventually Mobituaries arrived on my Kindle. Unfortunately, the library lets people check out online books only for 21 days. Yesterday, ye gads, I discovered (hey, a discovery for my obit?) that 20 days had swept by. I had yet to read a Mo word. So hurriedly I decided to read at least some, lest the Kelsey gent makes an inquiry.

One of Mo’s obits was about Thomas Paine, the fellow who wrote Common Sense, which got Americans jazzed up about fighting the Brits. Paine led a hero’s life gone misunderstood. His story—as told by Mo—is something we never learned in high school history class.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

I was surprised to discover (ah, another discovery for my obit) that Mr. Paine coined the sentence “These are the times that try men’s souls” so often used today.

I blame my learning oversight on the snoozy style of my high school history teacher. Lest you think otherwise, my oversight had nothing to do with keeping close attention on the pretty girl at the nearby desk, right? Now, a half-century later, I recall she was certainly very, very pretty, but have no idea what she looked like. Or her name. Or the color of her hair. Or, I wonder now, was she a figment of my teenage imagination, a distraction to keep from snoring in history class?

Anyway, let’s put that aside way aside and go back to Mr. Paine’s sentence: He wrote it to describe stuff Americans faced around the time of the Revolutionary War. I hope, but am uncertain, that when he penned “men’s” he also meant women had souls that could be tried, too.

Today, Mr. Paine’s sentence can easily be used to reflect what’s happening in the world. This time of coronavirus indeed tries our individual and collective soul. Infection rates continue to soar. Deaths are so plentiful that some stressed communities are storing caskets of loved ones in refrigerated trucks until something can be done with them. No end is in sight.

In the inevitable end—as leaders have promised—we will have muddled through this. Revolutionary Americans survived. So shall we.

Fanny Brice

Fanny Brice circa 1930

Meanwhile, I found Mobituaries to be an engaging book structured so the reader can skip around hither and tither. After reading Mo’s obits about dragons and Paine today, I swiped across my Kindle screen to the story of Fanny Brice, the early 20th century singer, comedienne and inspiration for Barbara Streisand’s 1968 film Funny Girl.

I got as far as “Fanny’s troubled love life was…” when the library very rudely and very abruptly snapped away my online book, leaving me screeching, “What? What? What was her troubled love life?” My 21 days had expired.

I hurried to the online library to check out the book again, only to discover (hey, another discovery) that it wouldn’t be available for checkout again for at least two months.

Two months! Two months? What about Fanny’s troubled love life?

Amazon’s $14.99 looks pretty good right now, even if I am supporting Mo in a life of what could become decadence, debauchery and debasement.

Meanwhile: Gary Kimsey died on _?_ at _?_. He was _?_ years old. During his life, he made great discoveries, like Mo being a popular dude, 21 days go by fast, Tommy Paine wrote that thing, takes forever to check out a good book, and the prettiest girl in the universe may only be a figment.

Well, dagnabbit, that’s a hoot of an obit, ain’t it?