Owning Your Journey: Part Two
Friday was an absolutely amazing spiritual release and grounding experience for me. Over the last few days, I’ve been completely consumed by this family and how their lives and deaths impacted me that I haven’t been able to concentrate on much else. In a conversation with Erin I said, “This is really bothering me.” She replied, “I know, I can tell. Just drive safe when you head over there today. Go find them, and then you’ll feel better.”
I left pretty immediately after work and headed over there. It had rained on and off throughout the day, and I was really hoping that it would hold off long enough for me to find them because I didn’t have an umbrella with me… And I was wearing mostly white. Not that anyone was with me, but it’s still an uneasy feeling. Plus, it wasn’t that warm. This was a cold rain.
It took me about forty-five minutes to make it to the cemetery that everyone affectionately calls “Hell’s Gates.” This picture was taken during the day, but you can sorta see why they call it that. It’s amplified at night, though. There’s a new maintenance group, I think, as well. The flowers are all new to me, but then again, this is the first time I’ve been back in a number of years.
I drove over to the place where Erin and I had driven up the night before. We’d gone there after my banquet (I was being honored as an “Outstanding Science Teacher” for 2014, and Erin went with me. I won a rain barrel and a pair of tickets to a local theater company performance). I picked up a few stones, since I didn’t have flowers for their graves. I thought about them and how important this was to me as I rolled the stones around in my hand.
I walked straight down to the tree line, looked left and looked right, and knew immediately that this wasn’t right spot. I started following the tree line while I looked for any indicators that I was close. Finally, I said, “Gods, help lead me to this place so I can find this family and have their story be told the way I feel it should be.”
And then it started to thunder, and I looked up in the direction of the thunder thinking I was about to get caught in a storm, and I saw this small road, barely paved, that led off to the right and down to an older area of the cemetery where it wasn’t kept up as much. I thought, “That has to be it. I can feel it.”
I got back to my car, drove over to this other area and parked off to the right. The grass was overgrown, some of the markers were falling apart or worn down to the point where you couldn’t see their names. All around me were individuals who had died in the late 1930’s to early 1940’s, so I started to think I was wrong again because I thought this family had died in the early 1960’s. Again, I said, “Gods, please… Please help me find his family.” I was really starting to get emotional and worried I wouldn’t find them.
Again, it started to thunder, and I looked in the direction of the storm clouds. The sky was starting to get dark, and I knew that it was going to rain soon. Then directly under the storm clouds, not far from where I was standing was a family plot tucked into the tree line, and I knew immediately that I’d found them. I thanked the Gods as I walked over to the stones.
I stood at the edge of site, looking down a the stones, and the skies opened up and poured down on me. I was completely drenched in a matter of minutes. I stood there, head tilted back up at the sky, letting the rain wash over me. I felt all of my emotions slip away with every drop. I felt at peace again.
The family’s name is Cole. The three children, Charles, Shirley, and Cora, all died on December 15, 1940. Their mother, Stella, died two days later on December 17, 1940. The family was on their way to a holiday vacation when their car (carrying them, the father, and their six other children) collided with a truck on the newly opened highway. Along with the four of them, one of the two individuals in the other car also died within the next two days. The crash was the deadliest the area had seen in a number of years.
The father of the three children, Charlie, died a number of years later in 1978. I’m not sure how he died. I couldn’t locate anything in the papers.
After I placed stones on their graves, I walked back to my car and headed to the library where I had to have a quick refresher course on how to work the microfilm machines. The new ones allowed me to save on printing fees by e-mailing selections of the old newspapers to myself. Yay, technology!
At the time, there were two newspapers in the area, The Herald and The Journal. At some point, one of them bought the other or there there was a merger, but now there’s just the one. Both papers covered the crash. It made front page news in both papers. The mother’s death a couple days later, along with the other man in the truck, didn’t make front page news, and the images I was able to capture were blurry.
It was interesting to me to see what other news was going on at the time, such as Hitler and the new World War. The area, however, was locally worried about driving. At the time the article was written, 36 people had died in automobile accidents that year, and the articles in both papers were urging people to drive safer to prevent more injury, suffering, and death. The image from The Journal of the car accident was extremely dark. I google’d the headline over the image and managed to find the same image, but clearer on the internet. The car doesn’t look terrible, but it also doesn’t look like 11 people should have been able to fit in it either. I’m not sure exactly how the wreck happened, and the articles didn’t really say much (not to mention, they were very hard to read).
I finally left the library around seven to head home. I felt accomplished and peaceful knowing that I was going to be able to tell the story the way it should be told. This family is a part of my journey. I found them randomly many years ago, but the story of their passing has stayed with me all this time.
Our stories, no matter how insignificant we make think they are, never go away. We never know how our lives and our actions may affect those that are around us. We may never learn how simply standing up and accepting our stories, our past, and our histories for what they are can make all the difference to someone we might not ever meet. We have to live our lives in a such a way that when our stories are told, they’re told in a way that we would be at peace about.
Through all our ups and downs, we have to own our journeys because we never know when the smallest happening can change the lives and futures of someone else.