Be sure you read the small print

Published 10:31 am Thursday, January 16, 2014

You might be surprised to learn which part of the newspaper is often the most well read. From my experience, though, it’s important to be sure you understand what you’re reading – even in that section.

It was a long ago Wednesday when my husband came home with a certain obituary. I can say this because that was the day the local paper came out each week. I also remember our daughter was wearing her swimsuit because I had let the laundry pile up due a week’s worth of Vacation Bible School. She was finishing off her fourth banana popsicle, too, another sure sign that it wasn’t only the laundry suffering from my inattention that day.

“These won’t keep,” I explained from where I sat shelling my way through a bucket of peas. Her hopes of making it to the pool dwindled with each pink-eyed, purple hull that hit the floor. That’s when we heard the sound of my husband’s patrol car pull into the driveway. He strode into the room and leaned close with page two of the paper, pointing to the obituary of a Mr. Hutcheson. By then our sons had come inside, too, to see what was happening.

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“He was just fine Friday when we were over there mowing their grass, wasn’t he, boys?” my husband asked, obviously shaken up. Three buzz cuts nodded in unison. The oldest informed me in great detail that Mr. Hutcheson was the recent husband of the widowed Mrs. Murray, a long-time customer of my husband’s part-time lawn business. I took the paper for a closer look.

“Strange there’s no mention of Mrs. Murray, I mean, Mrs. Hutcheson,” I murmured.

“Well, their kids weren’t too crazy about them getting married at their age and all,” my husband responded, getting up to go back to work. A few hours later found us on the Murray/Hutcheson doorstep, scrubbed-faced and ready to show our respects. In Mississippi it is no small thing to miss a funeral.

We rang the bell. Several times. Finally Mrs. Hutcheson heard us over Wheel of Fortune. “Well, what a surprise!” she drawled , peering out through the screen and a smoky haze. She moved to throw her cigarette butt into a flowerbed, barely missing the baby, then motioned us in with a wave. My husband didn’t have a chance to begin offering condolences before Son No. 2 began to cough. A lot.

“You sound just like Clyde,” she said, showing us to her couch. “You know, he always keeps a cough.”

My husband shifted a bit. “Well, I never noticed that. He always seemed the picture of health to me.”

Mrs. Hutcheson grinned. “You’re right about that. Healthy as a horse.” Had she just used the present tense again, I wondered, exchanging glances with my husband. About that time we heard the shuffle of heavy footsteps come down the hall and stop in the doorway. Imagine our surprise. The infamous Mr. Hutcheson didn’t even look sick, much less dead.

I had to move quickly, before the kids had time to open their mouths. “Mrs. Hutcheson,” I said with all the seriousness I could muster, “have you noticed the declining quality of produce at Jitney Jungle?” A quarter hour of Gala apples and iceberg lettuce later, we were headed for home.

The next night as those precious peas were passed, my husband shared that he’d stopped by the truck stop and found out the Clyde Hutcheson of the obituary was actually a distant cousin of the one in question. That’s when I had to tell him Verna Magee had called. Immediately he eyed the boys and asked if they’d gotten grass in her flowerbeds again.

“No, dear,” I interjected. “She asked when we were planning to come to see her, since Mrs. Hutcheson told her you are bringing us around to visit all your customers.”

Later, I realized my daughter wasn’t part of the ensuing protests. I suspected she might have overheard Mrs. Magee’s mention of a key lime pie, and she’s always liked pie. Almost as much as banana popsicles.

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at