Somewhere in my past, I had read that when washing windows you should use newsprint to dry them. Just wad it up in a ball and you won’t have streaks or smears. So, on a day of cleaning my front porch, I took out several sections of the Sunday paper in preparation for the task at hand. My storm door has a lot of different panes of glass, so I knew lots of newsprint would be needed.
I don’t know what I had been thinking when I realized I was throwing away pictures of persons who had recently passed. In a split second, I had picked up the paper and wadded it up to use to dry off the windows I was washing. I had even gotten a good look at one of the women on one of the pages. How would I feel if someone had taken my picture to dry their windows? Not something I had ever thought about before.
There was something familiar about one of the pictures that I had already tossed away, but I couldn’t remember what it was. So, I decided to dig through the trash to find the picture of that particular woman. Would I even recognize which one she had been, now that the paper was all wrinkled, torn and wet? I had to spread what was left of the page out in the sun so I could get a good look. And sure enough, there she was.
The first thing I noticed was her smile. And when I looked at her name, I saw that her first name was Norma Jean. That was what I had noticed. Her name was an unusual name from high school. My goodness, I was friends with a girl named Norma Jean. Could that Norma Jean, be the same Norma Jean I had gone to high school with? Next, I looked to see what year she had been born. It said 1936. That’s when I was born.
The Norma Jean I knew was one year ahead of me in school, but it still could be her. Quickly my eyes went to see where she was from. She was from Delaware, Ohio. Me, too. And just as quickly, I noticed her parents’ name (in parenthesis) and saw that she wasn’t the Norma Jean I had known after all.
What had come over me that I would want to dig in the trash to find out more about her in the first place? Am I now identifying with a woman dying because she is my age? All I can think of right now is that I have stepped over that invisible line in life from when you stop collecting things and start getting rid of things.
I’ve always heard that everyone has a story. After doing a quick read of the other information about her, I saw she had worked at the Pro Football Hall of Fame and later went on to be a small business owner. She was survived by a husband of 58 years and had lots of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. However, as I read further, I saw that she was preceded in death, not only by her parents, but by a sister, a son and a granddaughter. Now when I looked at the picture of her, I saw that the smile wasn’t as sparkling as I first thought it was. Everyone has sadness in their lives, but with the lose a sister, a son and a granddaughter, I felt that her life probably had a lot of sadness, too.
I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning my porch and thinking about why I felt so bad to have used this picture of Norma Jean to dry my windows. I knew then that I wanted to write a story about finding Norma Jean’s picture. I tried to smooth out the paper so I could cut out the picture to go with a future story. Later, I realized that I have a picture of the other Norma Jean in my 1953 Delhi. How many girls do you suppose were named ‘Norma Jean’ back in 1936? Those 2 women couldn’t have been named for the well-known Norma Jean (Marilyn Monroe), because Marilyn Monroe was only 10 years old when these Norma Jeans were born.
When I finished cleaning my porch, I sat back, put my feet up and thought about the whole subject of obituaries being printed. I have often heard it said that the only reason some people take their local paper is so they can read the obituaries. Often I try to guess how old the person was from the picture that goes with the listing. Men in military uniforms are usually in their 80s and 90s now.
Women’s hairdos usually give away their age, as does having the person look directly into the camera, or be looking off to the side. It’s always sad to see a child’s picture. And sometimes a much younger picture is used. That would be my choice.
One thing I’ve learned from all of this, is that the next time I am drying windows with newsprint, and I find I have the obituary section, I think I will put it back in the stack to be recycled.
Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.