Down the River Road

This is going to be the funniest obituary you’ve ever read.

Now, I know, obituaries aren’t really supposed to be funny, in large part because the people who write them are sad or distraught and humor is the last thing that occurs to them.

Through the years, though, I’ve read a few hilarious obits that all had one thing in common: they were written by the person whose passing was being reported.

This is one of those.

On April Fools’ day of this year, my writer cousin Sherry Austin posted the following on Facebook. (It’s been edited in a few places to make it acceptable for a family newspaper, but I trust Sherry would forgive me for that necessity):

“Ann T. Shee, alternately known as Trixie Goforth, Sherry Austin, Mavis the Mad, Dr. Pearl Price, Latter-Day Haint, & Unorthodox Shrew, died at her home near the former home of Howdy Doody. She was born several years ago in an undisclosed location to two parents who thought she was weird & warned her that one day her mouth would overload her [bottom]. As a child, she had diverse interests, ranging from bouncing a ball while talking to herself to jumping off the well house with an umbrella, trying to fly like Mary Poppins. Every now and then throughout the years, she was somewhat semi-widely known for both her deep empathy & lack of concern. At times, she was known for doing for others but that didn’t pay off so she quit. She had a deep & personal relationship with Jesus Christ & also went to church for several years but had to stop because there were people in there. After high school she took a road trip to Israel, she means Palestine, & had a romance with the creepy son of the original owner of the Dead Sea Scrolls. She was privileged to go to Montreat College…

“She was the author of Mariah of the Spirits; Where the Woodbine Twines, The Days Between the Years, & “Stardust: A Reflection on the Resurrection of the Dead.” She was a “Road Scholar” traveling speaker for the NC Humanities Council & writer for PBS Nova’s “The Secret Life of Scientists.” She led seniors in writing their memoirs at the local community college & was blown away by their life stories, their refusal to acknowledge the internet, & how smart-mouthed they were. She was deeply interested in genealogy but gave it up because nobody kin to her gave a [darn], & all the dead ancestors didn’t either, so just [darn]. She was happily married to a man and a cat, who vied for her affections. If you despised her, you can [tick] her off posthumously by donating to your church or charity.

“That was, as her devoted husband Rick said “my girl!” Sherry died in her sleep on April 7, 2015.”

Sherry and I were first cousins, but we were brought up in very different circumstances and had dissimilar life experiences. Yet we ended up in the same kind of benign Twilight Zone world in which the only thing we were sure about was that we questioned everything about everything.

Sherry doesn’t have a tombstone, but if she did I think I know what she might have liked carved on it: a great big, bold, question mark.

Among Sherry’s major interests were ghosts and the supernatural, while I loved superhero comic books. I’m not smart enough to assay in detail why those things are similar, but to my mind they are. Sherry wrote that one of the reasons people believe in ghosts is the need for transcendence. Same thing for me with superheroes — I needed something bigger and stronger than me who could do all the things I couldn’t, such as visiting other worlds or realms.

When Sherry passed away her husband Rick, with the help of family, friends, and Sherry’s publisher at Overmountain Press, Beth Wright, put together a 117-page book of things Sherry had written and had written about her. Following are some excerpts from that book, entitled “The World According to Sherry Austin.”

I’m an old woman and the light I see at the end of the tunnel is more than likely a train, so I want to confess every transgression I have ever committed against both the good and the Google, so I can do ’em all over again, and get forgiven afresh.

Excited to learn that giant gerbils, nor rats, might have caused the great plague, and if further studies support the notion, let me be the first to apologize to every rat in my address book.

NO factual basis to the myth that hummingbirds hum just because they don’t know the words to the songs. Oh, they know. They just don’t want us to know they know.

Y’all have no idea how utterly devastated I was to realize that you and I belong to the same species.

Reevaluating some people I know and some to whom I’m kin, I’m wondering what they would be like had they received adequate oxygen at birth.

In the beginning there was nothing and God said “Let there be light,” and there was still nothing but everybody could see it.

Facebook: Too many freaks; not enough circus.

HONK if you love peace and quiet.

When I was a kid, we said the Pledge of Allegiance at school every day. I’d ask the teacher what it meant exactly, but all she could think to say was it meant we would defend our country against foreign enemies. There was this kid in our class who talked funny and I figured he was Russian so at recess I beat him up on the playground, but I felt bad when I found out he was just from New Jersey.

The road to Hell is paved. Now, that’s progress.

There’s more, lots more, to Sherry. For one thing, she was a Bible scholar. She probably knew it better than any preacher in any denomination.

I realize that the quotes above may make her seem acerbic, and in a way she was. But Sherry kidded around a lot, and I can’t help but feel that her ultimate goal was to make us laugh at ourselves. I compare her Facebook posts to the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons — you either “got” it or you didn’t.

Those who got it were in for a rollicking good time. Those who got it also knew that Sherry was one of the nicest, most caring, giving persons ever to walk the earth. Several of us still visit her Facebook page (Ann Shee) just to, oh, see if perhaps she’s shown up there in some other form. Or we go there to read what others are still writing about her, or what others are sharing that she had written privately to them.

What I haven’t told you yet is this: Sherry suffered for many years from a terrible brain disease that no doctor could explain. It wasn’t this and it wasn’t that — what it was, was…they didn’t know.

She had to take prescription drugs to think, to write. She could no longer write long-form, and in that sense Facebook helped her survive creatively. Sherry was the reason I became a member of the Facebook community, because it allowed me to share her world more fully.

I have struggled now for two months to write this column. It’s been one of the most difficult things I have ever attempted. The words above don’t, and can’t, adequately express what Sherry (“her sassiness,” as one recent Facebook poster dubbed her) meant to those who knew her as relatives or friends.

So, if I’ve intrigued you enough, pick up one of her books as mentioned above, or visit her Youtube channel, TrixieGoforth (especially the three-part Trixie Goforth Died and Gone to Heaven). You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and then you’ll laugh some more. And, just maybe, you’ll start asking questions.

Steve Martin lives near the Mitchell River and he wishes that Sherry had written a story about the Kapp’s Mill millhouse, because he suspects there are ghosts lurking within those old walls. If you have a ghost story you would like to share, you can write to him at

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