Habitual readers of obituaries can’t help but notice that a lot of the guys in the listings are pictured holding a fish. This happens occasionally in the Whidbey News-Times, and continually in The Herald of Everett. It must the the Scandinavian heritage. You see more fish-picture obituaries in The Herald than the Seattle Times, which has four times the circulation.
Most likely the men whose obituary photo space is shared with a fish are the victims of a common family oversight, in which no none remembers to take a picture of dear old dad. There are plenty of photos in the family album of the kids, mom, grandma and grandpa, the cat, the dog, the cow, and the Grand Canyon, but few of dad. A lot of families take dad for granted and would no more think to take his picture than they would the refrigerator. They both have the same basic job: Keep running, supply food, be a stable presence in the household, but they don’t require much attention. So when dad eventually succumbs, there are few pictures available. Except for that time in 1968 when he came home with the 40-pound king salmon and begged that his picture be taken, as proof that he had actually caught the lunker. So that’s the picture that ends up running with his obituary. It’s not a bad photo. Dad is smiling and the fish has its eyes open, who could ask for anything more?
Other deceased dads may have left a last will and testament directing that the photo of himself and his 150-pound halibut be printed with his obituary. For a lot of guys, catching a trophy fish is the proudest moment of his life. You never see an obituary picture of a dad proudly hoisting his newborn son by the gills, or gripping some trophy he won in golf, but it’s common to seen dad holding a giant striped bass. There’s just something about catching a big fish that makes a man proud and stirs memories for years.
Generally the guys whose obituary pictures include a big fish are quite accomplished. You read about his college football exploits, military heroism, the billion-dollar business he built from the ground up, his Nobel peace prize, and then you see him holding a 30-pound lake trout caught back in 1979 in Canada. Suddenly you realize what he considered important in life.
As for yours truly, I’m in middle age, which is a polite way of saying I’m of the age when I could drop dead at any time without a moment’s notice. The obituaries are filled with guys my age, alive one second and dead the next. Many of them are pictured with a fish.
My only regret in life is that I never caught a fish big enough to impress people in my obituary photo. There’s one of me and a five-pound silver caught from the beach, but that would be embarrassing, as would the three-pound rainbow caught near Grand Coulee Dam one lucky Saturday.
After considerable thought, I’ve decided what I want my obituary picture to be. You’ll see with my hands spread wide apart, showing you the big one that got away. Truth be told, it probably wasn’t that big.