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What’s in a Name?

September 13, 2013

After the three of us left for school one sunny autumn morning, my mother sat at the kitchen table drinking her morning coffee and perusing the paper. She scanned the headlines and read a few other articles that caught her eye. She checked the grocery ad and moved on to the comics and finally, the obituaries.

Mom spat the hot brown brew halfway across the Formica tabletop as her eyes fell upon a familiar name. Darrell Smith. Her firstborn son! One of the kids she’d shooed out the door not twenty minutes ago.

In those days, it was a common practice to list the deceased’s street address in the paper.

The address listed in this obit was close…it was our street, but the house number was one number off. This Darrell Smith had been one year older. He lived across the street and suffered from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He had finally lost his battle with the disease.

We did not know the family well, but we would certainly bring a card and perhaps a casserole to them in the coming days.

Still, the sight of her son’s name in the obituaries gave mom more of a jolt than her coffee did that morning.

My brother Darrell had frequent run-ins with the law and he did time in after-school detention on a regular basis. He was one of those kids that mothers feared. They warned their children about kids like him. They cringed when he walked through their back doors with their own kids.

Darrell wasn’t all bad…he had his good points, as do we all. He was a hard worker, a valued employee at the local grocery store where he worked as a carry-out boy. His job was to bag groceries, then carry them out and load them into customer’s cars.

The only time my folks were at ease, completely confident that Darrell was not getting into trouble, was when he was at work. They encouraged him to pick up extra shifts, especially on Fridays and Saturdays.

He was at work when Landon and Mary, Darrell’s best friend and his mother, stopped in at the store. Mary planned on buying her groceries before stopping at Sears and Roebucks on the way home to buy Landon a suit to wear to the funeral.

Mary and Landon’s path didn’t cross with Darrell’s until they were checking out. She glanced at the end of the counter. Upon seeing my brother, she gasped, bringing one hand to her mouth and steadying herself with the other. Her checkbook and pen clattered to the floor.

‘Darrell! I never thought I’d say this…’..She exclaimed, ‘but, I’m happy to see you!’

Darrell bagged her purchases and wheeled them out to her Plymouth wagon. He loaded them in the back while Mary wiped tears of joy from her cheeks, repeatedly telling him how happy she was to see him.

Landon clapped him on the back saying, ‘Man, I thought you were dead! Whatcha doing Friday night?’

We received several cards in the following days…phone calls, too. All expressed deepest sympathy in the loss of my brother…no one knew he was ill. Most contained a gift of money which my parents returned whenever possible.

A few years later, after Darrell and I had moved away, Mom was in the middle of her morning routine…drinking coffee and reading the paper at the kitchen table, when she was once again scanning the obituaries…

She saw another familiar name…her own!  Doris Smith.

She had not known that another Doris Smith lived in town. The deceased Doris had lived across town and was a decade older than my mother.

Again, sympathy cards filled the mailbox. And again, the cards were returned with a word of thanks and an explanation.


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