I note with sadness the inclusion of several familiar names in the funeral section of this newspaper in recent weeks.

A few, I knew well ó along with their families. But the others, I didnít know well at all. These were the ďbutchers, bakers and candlestick-makersĒ who represent the salt of the earth and who are the foundation of what makes any community a place where you want to put down roots and call home.

While working for this newspaper for four decades, I compiled a substantial list of acquaintances ó honest, hard-working people whose accomplishments somehow fail to merit inclusion in any ďWhoís WhoĒ publication. Then again, based on personal experience, I know you donít have to do a lot to earn an invitation. If you have job title and are willing to buy the volume with your name listed, youíre in.

Time catches up with everyone. I live maybe five blocks away from a friend with whom I conspire to resolve world issues and just as often commiserate about the trials of aging. We talk electronically almost daily, but have yet to meet for coffee at the Dairy Queen as nature intended. Sometimes, serendipitously, we cross paths at the grocery store. More often, that happens at a doctorís office.

Not too many years ago, while visiting my mother in North Carolina, I gasped at all the pills she took each day. Those were in addition to an assortment of dental and ocular potions doctors had prescribed to help her avoid the need for dentures (quite successfully, even now in her mid-80s) and delay the effects of macular degeneration (not so successfully). I felt fortunate then that all I took was a multi-vitamin, assuming I didnít forget. I remembered that scene last month as I sorted the nine prescription and vitamin tablets I swallow daily, plus another handful Iíve taken for two weeks for a seasonal ailment.

But you arenít here to listen to me complain.

Another friend and I shared a laugh over a news report that offered ďa dozen surprises your body has waiting for you after you turn 50.Ē We agreed that we were indeed fortunate that, for us, these surprises didnít show up so early in life.

Here are a few examples of the changes named: Your food cravings change, food tastes differently, it takes longer to heal after an injury, itís more difficult to loose weight, strange things happen to your skin and nails, your brain isnít as nimble ó and neither are your legs and arms. Other examples involve certain private functions usually confined to bathrooms and bedrooms, but letís not explore those here.

I might add a few more:

ē Pimply-faced cashiers at fast-food restaurants ring up your order with a senior citizens discount, even if you donít yet qualify under store rules. After a while, you donít consider it an insult. You just count your savings and run.

ē You can remember the precise details about what you did on your 21st birthday, but canít recall what kind of soup you ate for lunch yesterday.

ē It doesnít bother you anymore when you look down and see youíre wearing one brown and one black sock. You just make a mental note to avoid doing it again tomorrow.

As in all humor, these are funny because thereís a morsel of truth within it.

Aging is usually a blessing for those fortunate enough to experience it, but itís not always easy. In fleeting moments on which none of us should dwell, we acknowledge that eventually it will be our own names appearing on the second page of our local newspaper. I donít know if those who read mine when the time comes will pause ó ever so briefly ó to recall when our paths happened to cross in years past. But I do know that such is my experience when I see the names of others I met occasionally while working in this community.

Perhaps you asked the Bulletin to become involved in promoting a fund-raiser for your church or civic club. Perhaps we met when you brought in your childís birth announcement or wedding story for publication. Perhaps you were mad about something the paper printed or how the dayís news was handled. If so, I hope we parted company with a smile, even if we each figured we would never change the otherís mind.

This is not meant to be a downer, because Iím expecting that stack of pills on the dining room table to keep me ticking for a good while longer. My point is, many of the people whose earthly journeys are now ended were part of the fabric of this community for a long time, and we are all better off because of it. I treasure the memories I have when I remember seeing them standing in the Bulletinís lobby, or sitting across from me at a banquet table.

Since I wasnít directly related, nor did I know most of them well, so I felt inadequate to offer condolences to family members who survive. But nevertheless, in my heart, I pay tribute to their lives and their contributions to the hometown we shared.

In the context of community, they have indeed been like family.

Gene Deason is a former editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. He may be contacted at news@brownwoodbulletin.com.