My youngest son, Chris, sent me a copy of an obituary written by Michael Edward Garner of Marvell, Arkanasas which appeared in a Jackson newspaper back in July. Michael wrote his own obituary (except the last few words, which were probably added by a close friend), and it was so amusing—and provocative—that I decided to share it. It’s about “enjoying life, sins and all,” as a friend of mine used to say when asked how he was doing. It’s about fun and frolic and being honest about who you are. This is not your usual Christmas message, but I enjoyed it more than any column yet. Maybe this fits the meaning of Christmas in more ways than I realize.
Michael Edward Garner of Marvell, Arkansas
One martini too many—that’s what killed him.
I am born. “In Dixie Land where I was born, early on one frosty morn.”
After a long and difficult labor, I am born right after midnight on Wednesday, November 3, 1948, the day after Harry Truman is elected President. I was born to Alice and Paul Garner of Memphis, Tennessee. At age 4, the Garners moved to Marvell, Arkansas. I start in Mrs. Rowan’s Sunshine Kindergarten that fall, where I request and receive a “co-cola” rather than the orange juice offered—you see, I am an only child! I love my grandmothers—Big Mama and Nanny. Nanny comes to live with us in Marvell. I love going to Big Mama’s in Memphis for Christmas and seeing my aunts, uncles and cousins. And I love school. I graduated from Marvell Public School as one of the 49 Superior Seniors of ‘66.
I’m educated. I work. “Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten.”
My formal education is hardly over. Au contraire. Clark Hall and I attend summer school at the University in Fayetteville and then again in the fall. Clark eventually bestows upon me what I always consider the highest honor of my life—serving as his Best Man. In January of my freshman year, I transfer to Ole Miss, because it is more “Southern”. It is there that I fall in love with the Rebels, the Confederate flag, “Dixie”, Col. Reb, bourbon and water, and Kathy Haskett. I join Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and love drinkin’, dancin’ and partyin’ at the fraternity house. The best day of my life is January 1, 1970, when Ole Miss beats Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl 27-22. Although “one never graduates from Ole Miss,” I receive a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in May 1970 from The University of Mississippi. I attend Mizzou that summer and fall. I then enter Ole Miss Law School in the summer of 1971 and graduate with a Juris Doctor in December 1973. After 21 years of formal education, it is time to go to work, and I do for Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company in Jackson, Mississippi, retiring in March 2011.
I live my life.
But my life is not about work. My life is about fun. I like people and laughter and nonsense. I love riding with the top down in convertibles and Jeeps. I like Elvis and the Beatles and The Temptations. I like listening to oldies and rock ‘n’ roll and ‘60s soul. I like Italy and New York City and N’Awlins. I love bulldogs and screened porches and everything Southern. I love shrimp and pasta and BLT’s in the summertime. I love the fall, Ole Miss football and bowl games. I love throwing a party; I like FNEJ for Africa, USA for Tammy Faye, a Martin Luther King Party now and then and my own ‘60s 60th Birthday Party. I make more fun of Bill and Hillary Clinton than anyone in the world, except for Saturday Night Live. I vote Republican every chance I get. What I don’t like is being told what to do. Occasionally pretentious and somewhat affected, I like things my way; I like writing my own obituary. Although outwardly gregarious and self-confident, I am not the extrovert that I appear. I am oftentimes prone to self-doubt and I get my feelings hurt too easily…and yet I love to be the center of attention and the life of the party. My life’s mottos are “It’s all about me,” and “You have to grow old, but you don’t have to grow up.”
I die. “In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand, to live and die in Dixie.”
Dying from who knows what, but peacefully in my sleep, at home at the age of 65 in Madison, Mississippi, I have gone on to explain my life to my Maker on July 27, 2014. Although a born-again Christian, I am a back-slidin’ Southern Baptist. So, friends, gather for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at a time and place to be determined and toast me and roast me. Meanwhile, I’ll be available for viewing from 11:00am to 1:00pm at the Bob Neal & Sons/Brickell Funeral Home in my hometown of Marvell, Arkansas, with a graveside service immediately following at Eventide Cemetery beside “them ole cotton fields back home.” And will be buried beside my parents, Alice and Paul Garner, in my beloved hometown of Marvell “away, away, away down South in Dixie.”
And the mosquitoes—That’s what drove him crazy…
I wish I had known Michael Edward Garner, for he sounds like a cool character, full of fun and laughter. I can’t believe he was as narcissistic as he indicates. But I believe his obit has something to say to all of us, especially this time of year. If I could speak for Michael Garner now, it might come out like this: 1. Have lots of fun. 2. Don’t take yourself too seriously. 3. Don’t worry about dying, but take better care of yourself than I did, because I died too young. 4. Stay sober, as I probably had one too many, and it got to my liver. 5. Go to see your grandparents or other members of your family, especially at Christmastime. 6. Keep in touch with your friends. 7. Bring an abundance of life and laughter to parties. (Jesus said n the Gospel of John 10:10, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly”). 8. Celebrate everything. 9. Stop back-sliding , whatever your faith may be. 10. Finally, and by all means, keep some mosquito spray handy at all times.
So, dear friends, consider writing your own obituary. That way, you can control most of what will be said about you when you leave this planet. And, if you do write it, make it joyful. Have a safe, enjoyable, fun-filled, sober and merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!