When word came this week that André Cassagnes, inventor of the Etch A Sketch, had died, a little dial twisted inside me, and a squiggly black line tugged at my heart.
I had never heard of Cassagnes, had never even considered that there might have been a real person behind that iconic, maddening toy of my childhood, behind tens of millions of other childhoods.
But here was Cassagnes—baker's son, electrical technician, man with a story—and were it not for his invention which has endured for over fifty years and the obituary reporting his death at the age of 86, I never would have heard of him.
When I first read the news of his death, I thought I'd end up writing about toys and games—even candy bars—remembered from my past, many of which have been reappearing in the stores these days in a sort of retro revival. But then I got to thinking about the obituaries themselves, how they are fading toward their own demise. And how it's looking pretty unlikely that they will ever be revived.
The good, local newspapers still print them. These notices of death are often the only means that one-time friends and distant family members have to learn about the loss. An obituary offers the practical information about arrangements and services, but it also provides a public record of an person's life. These records can be precious to generations to come, links to an otherwise inaccessible history, but in the present moment, a community that values its humanity does itself well to take pause, if only for a moment, and recognize the loss of those who have walked in its midst.
It's particularly sad to note that my own community newspaper, for economic reasons, has ceased to publish the standard obituaries. Sure, an option remains for loved ones to pay for column space to post a personally written notice. But while these paid remembrances can be heartwarming as well as illuminating, they are infrequently timely, and no replacement for those traditional postings, wherein each of the lost, regardless of means or history or social status, had one final chance to stand equally among all for recognition. For remembrance. The barest bones of our lives have become, it seems, as ephemeral as a child's scrawlings on an Etch A Sketch.
Nancy Carol Moody
I'm a poet and a letter-writer. Yup, that kind. The kind who uses pens and paper and actual stamps. The kind who will leave the house with nothing on the agenda but to get to the mailbox before the scheduled pick-up time. The kind who understands that technology is a wondrous thing, but nothing quite beats finding a real letter with a real stamp on it amid the credit card solicitations, pizza coupons and seminar catalogs.