I wrote my first life story yesterday. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.
For non-Missourian readers, a life story is an extended obituary, celebrating a person’s life. We contact family members and friends, gathering interests and stories. It has a very high probability to be uncomfortable, but it is a Missourian fact-of-life.
During my GA shift Wednesday, I was forwarded an obituary about Ella, a 99-year-old woman who passed away Sunday. I looked up the woman’s daughter’s phone numbers and made some calls.
I wasn’t prepared for what I found.
When I first called, a man answered the phone. I asked for Barbara. He couldn’t understand what I was saying. I thought it might have been my connection, but when a woman’s voice finally came over the phone.
“He’s had two strokes and is so hard of hearing,” she said before anything else. “I don’t know why he keeps trying to answer the phone.”
Reader, meet Barbara.
She went on and on about her mother: disjointed stories, interwoven histories. She talked about how smart her mother was and how she always took care to get very good grades while pursuing her master’s degree in education. She told the story of her parent’s meeting President Truman at an MU football game and becoming fast friends. She talked about her mother’s parties.
“Lord help us, she could cook.”
Ella was 99 when she died. She had lived a full life, and Barbara knew it. Her stories were full of love and appreciation. This was a celebration.
I called back a few times over the day to check facts and ask some clarifying questions. Norris, Barbara’s husband, answered the phone again. There was some shuffling and then Barbara’s voice again.
“Oh hi, Hanna. Hi, honey.”
There’s something about a person you’ve just met remembering your name that’s really special. There is also something really wonderful to be said for having a person actually want to talk to you, not give you the phone-tag run around.
Our interview was winding to an end, and I was thanking Barbara for her time and help, promising her that I would send her a copy of the life story.
“I hope I get to meet you some day, Hanna.”
I can’t tell you how my heart felt when I heard those words. It is another one of those times in my journalistic career where everything I’ve been doing is validated, like the time a student source told me there need to be “more journalists like you.”
I beamed and told her I wished I could meet her too.
“You’ve done such a wonderful job, honey. I really appreciate you writing this story about my mother. I wish I could meet you and give you a hug for all your work. I’m sure my mother would have wanted to give you a hug too.”
Thinking about it again, I am choked up. The idea of having that sort of wonderful impact on someone just through my job is an amazing idea. That I can not only educate or entertain, but improve a life.
Barbara will always be a special person to me. Teasing her husband and talking him up to me. Getting lost in her rant about lost phone numbers. Her candid, genuine story-telling. Her overwhelming respect and love for her mother.
“Alright, honey,” Barbara said as we hung up. “Thank you. God bless you.”
No, Barbara. Thank you.
(You can read more about Ella Lambert in my story here.)