The obituary this week for Eleanor Meek recounts the 98-year-old’s life and includes one line that stopped me in my tracks.
“She read the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin every day,” the obituary reads, “and her favorite newspaper writer was David Allen.”
I might never have known about this if not for a careful reader of our obituary section, who emailed to draw my attention to it. Thanks to Beryl Williams of Corona.
It’s a rare thing to find your own name in the obituaries. It’s not like Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral, but you get the idea. I saw my name, then went on with my morning. The next time I’m in the obits, or at least the last time I’m in the obits, I’ll be beyond caring.
Through Draper Mortuary, I asked to be put in touch with a family member. I wanted to express my condolences, and also to ask how her interest in my work was deemed important enough to include in her life story. Her son, William, got back to me right away.
Did his mother and I ever meet? Did she ever communicate with me?
“I don’t think so,” William told me by phone from his mother’s house in San Antonio Heights, which he’s organizing. “She just liked your column, especially talking of past times in the Pomona Valley area.”
Eleanor and her late husband, Bill, moved to Claremont in the mid-1940s and later lived in Montclair before buying a house above Upland in 1965 on an acre of land.
“In 1965 it was the only house for a distance. Now it’s surrounded by homes, modern homes,” Denny, William’s wife and Eleanor’s daughter-in-law, told me. And that acre still has citrus trees.
Into her 80s, after Bill’s death in 2000, Eleanor would move the hoses herself to keep the trees watered, before her gardener rigged up an irrigation system she could operate by pushing a button.
“We’re eating fruit off them while we’re here,” Denny added.
Eleanor Romine was born July 2, 1923 in a West Virginia farmhouse, walked the hills, got her schooling and earned a teaching degree. Her family moved to Los Angeles in the 1940s, as so many people did.
She and Bill met at a dance class, which sounds kind of perfect. They married in 1944 in Lynwood and headed east, perhaps to get away from the city, her son theorized.
Bill worked many years at M.K. Smith Chevrolet in Chino and Eleanor, after their two children were in school, got a teaching certificate from the University of La Verne. For two decades she taught elementary school in Chino: fifth grade, then second, ending with kindergarten.
“I kidded her, ‘you’re going backward!’” William joked.
Eleanor and Bill loved square dancing and rockhounding, bringing back opals and opalized rocks, Denny said. They prospected for gold and had a claim near Darwin. She rooted for West Virginia University sports teams, confirming dates, times and channels for game broadcasts with her son.
Although she wanted her teams to win, she was too polite to want a blowout. A simple victory was good enough. “A close game,” she would say, “is exciting.”
She also loved assembling jigsaw puzzles and solving word puzzles, including from the newspaper. Completed puzzles are stacked in her house. Denny is using pages to wrap items for protection and as a memento of Eleanor’s passion.
“She read the newspaper every day. If the paper wasn’t here, they knew about it,” Denny said with a chuckle.
Keeping up on Upland news was important to her. Current events in Upland can be so tumultuous, paying close attention might be detrimental to one’s health. But since she lived to 98, she must have handled it well.
William and Denny, who live in Arizona, learned to take an interest in Upland too.
“She was sharp mentally. I knew I’d better brush up on Upland events before we visited,” Denny said, amused. “So I started reading the Daily Bulletin.”
As a longtime resident, Eleanor also appreciated stories of past times, of places she used to shop, of restaurants the family used to patronize.
“Every week or two,” William said, “she would tell us of one of your columns she’d read. My wife and I would look it up on the internet.”
Eleanor died Jan. 30. When it came time to write an obituary, mentioning the newspaper, and me, made perfect sense in describing her interests and habits, according to her son.
“She said many times you were her favorite and she liked your folksy writing style,” William said.
Said Denny, “She said she liked your columns because it was like you were writing to a friend of yours.”
That comment kind of sums up the invisible bond between newspaper columnists and readers. I take it as a high honor to make an obituary (that wasn’t about me). How could I not?
Now, it’d be a little trite to say that I’m sorry Eleanor Meek and I never met. I can’t meet everyone, after all. If she’d wanted to write me, she could have.
Still, it’s a shame she won’t be able to unwrap her newspaper this morning and read about herself. She might’ve gotten a kick out of it.
Riverside’s Royal Interpack North America was the subject of a recent New York Times business story on the impact of rising oil prices on the company, a manufacturer of plastic packaging for fruit. The Times described the Inland Empire’s largest municipality as “a sprawling city tucked in the desert east of Los Angeles.” Accurate, I suppose, although 81 square miles and 336,478 people requires a lot of tucking.
David Allen is tuckered out after writing Friday, Sunday and Wednesday. Email email@example.com, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.