Saturday, October 16, 2010

Grinning Death Down

I'm reprinting an old post this morning because I had an email from the granddaughter of the deceased, who is also the daughter of the man who prompted my post.

I enjoyed re-reading David Cully's work so much, I'm sharing it again. From June 30, 2006:

I read this item in the comments over at Miss Snark today. It made me laugh out loud. I did a little research and thought I'd share the story with you today.

This is an actual death notice that appeared in the Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer (N&O) one year ago on July 2, 2005. I'll tell you more about it after you read the notice.

"On June 3, 2005 at 10:45 p.m. in Memphis, Tenn., Dorothy Gibson Cully, 86, died peacefully, while in the loving care of her two favorite children, Barbara and David. All of her breath leaked out. The mother of four children, grandmother to 11, great-grandmother to nine, devoted wife for 56 years to the late Ralph Chester Cully and a true friend to many, Dot had been active as a volunteer in the Catholic Church and other community charities for much of the past 25 years.

"She was born the second child of six in 1919 as Frances Dorothy Gibson, daughter to Kathleen Heard Gibson and Calvin Hooper Gibson, an inventor best known as the first person since the Middle Ages to calculate the arcane lead-to-gold formula. Unable to actually prove this complex theory scientifically, and frustrated by the cruel conspiracy of the so-called "scientific community" working against his efforts, he ultimately stuck his head in a heated gas oven with a golden delicious apple propped in his mouth. Miraculously, the apple was saved for the evening dessert. Calvin was not.

"Native Marylanders and longtime Baltimore, Kent Island and Ocean City residents, Ralph and Dot later resided in Lakeland, Fla., and Virginia Beach, Va.. Several years after Ralph's death, Dot moved to Raleigh in 2001, where she lived with her son David.

"At the time of her death, Dot was visiting her daughter Carol in Memphis. Carol and her husband, Ron, away from home attending a "very important conference" at a posh Florida resort, rushed home 10 days later after learning of the death. Dot's other children, dutifully at their mother's side helping with the normal last-minute arrangements -- hospice notification, funeral parlor notice, revising the will, etc. -- happily picked up the considerable slack of the absent former heiress.

"Dot is warmly remembered as a generous, spiritually strong, resourceful, tolerant and smart woman, who was always ready to help and never judged others or their shortcomings. Dot always found time to knit sweaters, sew quilts and send written notes to the family children, all while working a full-time job, volunteering as Girl Scout leader and donating considerable time to local charities and the neighborhood Catholic Church.

"Dot graduated from Eastern High School at 15, worked in Baltimore full time from 1934 to 1979, beginning as a factory worker at Cross & Blackwell and retiring after 30 years as property manager and controller for a Baltimore conglomerate, Housing Engineering Company, all while raising four children, two of who are fairly normal.

"An Irishwoman proud of and curious about her heritage, she was a voracious reader of historical novels, particularly those about the glories and trials of Ireland. Dot also loved to travel, her favorite destination being Eire's auld sod, where she dreamed of the magic, mystery and legend of the Emerald Isle.

"Dot Cully is survived by her sisters, Ginny Torrico in Virginia, Marian Lee in Florida and Eileen Adams in Baltimore; her brother, Russell Gibson of Fallston, Md.; her children, Barbara Frost of Ocean City, Md., Carol Meroney of Memphis, Tenn., David Cully of Raleigh, N.C. and Stephen Cully of Baltimore, Md. Contributions to the Wake County (N.C.) Hospice Services are welcomed. Opinions about the details of this obit are not, since Mom would have liked it this way."

This death notice created a sensation in Raleigh. Most people recognized the dark humor being expressed by David Cully, the 60-year-old son of the deceased. However, some readers assumed there was a rift in the family and complained to the News & Observer for publicizing it.

There was so much fuss over the story that the N&O's Public Editor, Ted Vaden, did a column on the death notice a week later on July 10th. He explained that it was a "paid" notice, similar to a classified advertisement. When he contacted David Cully, the son assured him that "the Cully family harmony was fine."

Vaden also quoted the N&O's obituary manager saying he "regretted that the notice had not been edited before publication because it may have not met the paper's standards for taste, decency and appropriateness."

The story didn't die there though. Two weeks after the notice was published, the Chicago Tribune ran a column on Mr. Cully's tribute to his mother.

I've mentioned more than once that I am the result of a marriage between an Irish woman and an Italian man. That--plus the Catholic Church's attitude toward birth control--meant that I spent a fair amount of my childhood either at baptisms or wakes. Although the family did not approve of children at funerals, we were always a part of the wake held in the days before the actual burial.

These events were the only times that both sides of my extended family came together, and I was endlessly amused by the wary way in which they eyed each other.

The fact that we were talking and eating and drinking with an open coffin in our midst was treated as so commonplace that I never feared death. Everyone knew that Uncle Paddy (or Uncle Vito, as the case might be) would have felt left out had he not been a part of his own wake.

The aunts always made an effort to keep liquor out of these events, and the uncles always managed to get around that prohibition. More than once, I was recruited to play whiskey runner and carry a small bottle past the aunts into the wake in a pocket of my dress.

I remember those events with fondness. It was sometimes hard to tell if the tears that fell were from sorrow or laughter. And maybe that's as it should be.

Mr. Cully's humorous tribute to his mother provided a measure of immortality to a woman whom, I suspect, would have appreciated her son's Irish levity.

Over this holiday weekend, a year after the notice ran, raise your glass and toast Dorothy Gibson Cully.

And for the rest of us:

May the road rise up to greet you
May the wind be ever at your back,
And may you get to Heaven thirty minutes
Before the Devil knows you're dead.
You can read Melissa Cully Anderson's comment on the post here. Thanks, Melissa, for reminding me of this.

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