The females on the maternal side of my family have the unusual habit - some might consider it strange or morbid - of collecting obituaries.
The practice started with my grandmother Minnie Myrtle Bright Junkins, continued with my mother Mary Gladys Junkins Johnson and lastly my sister Jane Johnson Hamm Mashburn to make three generations of this unusual practice.
There is a possibility (you can have a possibility no matter how small the percentage) that Minnie may have learned or acquired the practice from her mother Sarah Ann Bright. Sarah had been castigated and vilified from her community and historically for her marital status, but I cannot imagine a small boy having a better grandmother than Minnie and Sarah had a big part in that.
I never heard so much as a hiccup from the other six siblings Sarah raised, essentially as a single parent. But to say that Sarah would make 4 generations of obituary collecting would require a stretch of speculation without hard evidence. There is strong evidence for the other 3 generations and so I will introduce them in the following paragraphs:
Generation 1 - Minnie
Minnie was my maternal grandmother and along with my mother were the kindest people I ever knew. Here is a quote from an earlier article that summed her up very well: "My grandmother was a positive lady and I never heard her say anything bad about anyone. She had a positive aura that radiated out from her like a magnetic field. It made everything in her environment seem better than it actually was."
I also learned caution form my grandmother., She had this ability to look at a situation and predict any dangers that might occur. it is likely that I had caution in my DNA but I first noticed it when she pointed it out.
She and my grandfather's home on Brindlee Mountain just up from Guntersville was a community recreation center before recreation centers became a local government function. The community would gather at their house for ball games, birthday parties, Valentine parties and other social functions.
She started the obituary collecting with a single scrapbook of a few obituaries of national interest but mostly local obituaries of people she knew.
Generation 2 - Gladys
My mother Gladys was a little prodigy who began to show her intelligence at an early age. At community functions, she would be placed on stage as a 5-year-old to recite from memory things like the states and their capitals.
Gladys would study with her older sister Marie who brought 1st grade lessons home. Being a former teacher, I know nothing can be more disconcerting to a teacher than a disruptive student unless it is a little smart aleck who knows all the concepts before the teacher can even introduce them. After just a couple weeks of 1st grade, Gladys was promoted to 2nd grade.
Throughout her life, her hobby was people. She was a little walking encyclopedia on people - who married whom, who their children were and, of course, she collected their obituaries. She told me many times to always put the names of people on on photos as well as the dates, something in retrospect I wish I had done more often.
I was a silent witness on more than one occasion when my cousin Manuel Rex Bunch would visit with my mother. They had this game they played where he would provide clues, maybe house locations or a description of kids or dogs, and she would provide the name of the family which I assumed he had forgotten. He would point his index finger in the air and say, "Yeah! Yeah!" when she would produce the correct answer.
There was also a practical application for the obituary collecting. My uncle G.W. (Bunk) Junkins Jr., a World War II veteran (Pacific) was at a veterans meeting when there was a discussion about a particular individual veteran who was deceased and my uncle would tell the meeting Gladys would probably have his obituary. So the meeting loaded up and went to my Mom's house where in short order she produced the sought-after obituary.
Gladys' effort in the obituary collection were prodigious with a whopping 15 volumes of obituary scrapbooks.
Generation 3 - Jane
My sister received a double master's degree in secondary and elementary education from Jacksonville State University. She taught 4th grade at Union Grove in Marshall County from 1973-1979. In 1979, she married Charlie Hamm, who had an interesting career as lead guitar player for the well-known Statler Brothers country music band. Charlie passed away in 1993. In 2000, she married John Mashburn, who also had an interesting career as a police officer, police detective, private investigator and insurance agent.
For the past 25 years, she has worked at H&R Block in Arab as a mother-hen tax preparer for several generations of people from Arab. If you don't believe she has the people skills of Generation 1 and 2, just go with her to pick up a couple of items at Walmart. By the time she talks to all the people she runs into and knows and inquires how everyone is doing, you may be there half a day.
I was going to title this article "Three Generations of Obituary Scrapbooks" but Jane broke the scrapbook trend by efficiently filing hers in file folders of obituaries by years. She doesn't think of obituary collecting as morbid, but rather as a happy remembrance of the person's life.
I have thought many times what a treasure of historical information is contained in the scrapbooks and files of the three generations of obituary collections from my family. It would be good if copies could be made and backups places in different locations.
My sister Jane is reluctant to let the scrapbooks and files of obituary collections out of her sight because they are a family treasure.
My friend Dr. Pete Sparks of the Guntersville Historical Society suggested we take the scrapbooks, files and Jane (where she could keep an eye on them) to Staples for copying. It would be a pretty good undertaking logistically and otherwise.
Betty Taylor of the Marshall County Archives has also expressed interest. Negotiations for the above plan remain ongoing.
Jane, Generation 3, does not have children. The nieces have other interests, so it appears the obituary collecting will end after 3 generations.