Age Old Mystery Solved and Didn’t Even Need Google

I am writing tonight from beautiful Tulsa Oklahoma.

I am writing tonight from beautiful Tulsa Oklahoma.

I have always found cemeteries to be intriguing places. No, I am not morbid or obsessed with death. I am a people person, and people’s biographies interest me. I like reading the information on people’s gravestones and putting their stories together.  When I was 14 my family visited Washington D.C. and Arlington National Cemetery. While there I somehow made a wrong turn, and lost my family for a while, causing me to roam  the cemetery, contemplating the sacrifices represented by all the grave stones, as I wandered alone, lost in my own thoughts. Looking back, I think I got more out of the visit by being alone for a while.  I also published a blog post a while back about another encounter I had, while exploring a cemetery.  When I have time, I enjoy going to the Find A Grave website and reading people’s biographies. It is not about their death it is about their life.

Late this afternoon I visited the Oak cemetery in Fort Smith Arkansas, and solved an old mystery. When I was a kid I would go with my parents to see my maternal grandfather’s grave. While there I ran across another grave stone which became a perplexing mystery to me. As I remembered, the tombstone had two pictures, one each of twin boys who both died on their 16th birthday.  It haunted me, how  they died and why  they both died on their birthday? Did they get a new car for their birthday and have an accident? A swim party turned tragedy? I knew there was a story. Sometimes I feel sad, because I don’t have my own kids to tell my life story to. Everyone deserves to have their story told, and I wanted to know their story. Why did they both die on their 16th birthday?

Decades after last visiting my grandfather’s cemetery, I was on the Internet one night and decided to try to find their story. I did not remember their names or any dates, so I just tried Googling search terms like, “Twins die on their birthday Fort Smith” and so forth but found nothing. I then decided I had to return to the cemetery, find their gravestone, get their names and Google them to find their story.  While spending time in nearby Tulsa, Oklahoma this week, I decided now is the time. My mother graciously agreed to make the 100 mile trip, just to search for a tombstone and get the names off it. Well, that is not all we accomplished. My aunt Mary from Gentry  Arkansas and her daughter Eva, who both used to live in Fort Smith agreed to meet us in Fort Smith, along with a couple of my mother’s cousins still living in Fort Smith, so we could go to dinner tonight, after visiting the cemetery.

Driving down I was sure we would find it, as I remembered it being near grandpa’s grave. But I had no way to be sure of that. We arrived at the cemetery and started looking around, finding nothing. Then my mother’s cousins arrived. Jeannie, one of her cousins, thinking we were there to find a family grave, told us we were looking in the wrong place. I then told her about my mission, only to find that she had the answer to my age old mystery all along. I didn’t even need Google. I should have just asked Jeannie decades ago.

I told her I was looking for a grave stone for two twin brothers who both died on their 16th birthday. “The Bull boys?” Jeannie asked. “There is a picture on their tombstone.” “Yes!” I said, “That’s it it had pictures on it!” She marched me right over the their grave, which was nowhere close to where I remembered it being. This is where I am now realizing how much I can forget or not remember exactly right after a few decades. On the way to the grave, she told me, they were not twin brothers, they were cousins. I was not sure we were talking about the same boys until we came to the grave and I immediately  recognized the pictures. The picture on the left looked very familiar, almost exactly as I had remembered as a child.


It was the same grave but the facts are not exactly as I remembered them. Imagine that! Things are not exactly as I remember them decades later. They were not twin brothers. They were not even brothers, they were cousins. However one of them did die at 16, and the other one did die on his birthday, and they both did indeed die on the same day. No wonder my Google searches were futile. However I did not even need Google to find their story. Cousin Jeannie remembered the grave from her youth, when her and her cousin would explore the cemetery, as it was right by her house. She knew the story too. Donald Joe was in the military and during a leave came to visit. He picked up 16 year old Thomas during school, at Fort Smith Central High School,  so he could play hooky, and they would spend the day together. Sadly, after Donald helped Thomas escape from school, their car was hit by a train and they both died. Jeannie was in high school at the time, and while she did not know Thomas personally, she did remember all the other kids talking about it.

Cousin Jeannie on the left helped me find the grave and story that had haunted me for years. On the right is my cousin Eva who also helped put some of the pieces together for me.

Cousin Jeannie on the left helped me find the grave and story that had haunted me for years. On the right is my cousin Eva who also helped put some of the pieces together for me.

So tonight I finally got the story that had been haunting me since childhood. I learned some more valuable lessons in the process. With modern technology and the Internet being a wealth of information, nothing beats people knowledge. Of course the Internet only knows what people tell it. Google is no substitute for people knowledge. The wealth of information on the Internet is no substitute for the wealth of knowledge and experience in the people who are all around us, if we just take the time to talk to them.  I did not need to wait for Google to solve this mystery. All the time my cousin Jeannie knew the story, and lived her whole life right there in Fort Smith. All I had to do was ask. (Though to my credit I had mentioned it to my mother and aunt.) The amazing thing is, the gravestone was nowhere close to my grandfather’s grave, so I must have been doing some real exploring when I found it as a child. I never could have found it on my own tonight, but once I mentioned the story to Jeannie, she knew exactly what I was talking about (Even with my misinformation) and marched me right over to the grave. Jeannie knew the grave location and story. I didn’t need Google.  (Come to think of it, Jeannie remembered exactly where the grave was, based on her memory as a youth. She must have a better memory than me.)

I learned my memory is not 100% accurate. The information on the tombstones was not exactly how I remembered it as a child, and as I said earlier, the grave location was nowhere near where I remembered it. I remembered it being much closer to my grandfather’s grave.  Now I have to be more careful declaring things are exactly as I remember. Though I did remember enough over the last 38 years or so for my cousin to know what I was talking about. Also after all those years the pictures were exactly like I remembered. Especially the one on the left of Thomas.

So the mystery has been solved. Neither Thomas or Donald probably had children to tell their story to, just like I don’t have any children to tell my story to. But tonight we got to share their story. I guess the good news is you don’t have to have children in order to share your story.

Thanks to all you who read my blog and let me tell my stories.

By the way, here is the only website I have found so far with reference to the train wreck. 

My Top Ten Secrets Revealed!

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

My Top Ten Secrets Revealed!

10. I am “Voice”. In 1985, while attending Southern College of SDA (Now Southern Adventist University) I was doing my laundry at my sister’s house one night. Talk Net was on the radio with Bruce Williams, a business counselor. I decided I wanted to call in just for fun. I called into the national program and told Bruce I wanted to be a sports play by play announcer which I did. He told me to start working doing sports programs with my college radio station. I told him all they do is play classical music. Bruce then told me the radio station was not doing its job then in helping college students. Someone from the college was listening because the next week, in the college paper was my complete conversation! Since they did not know who I was I was simply called “voice”. The college paper blasted “voice” for not standing up for the school and radio station. Hey, I was just calling in just for fun! For weeks later letters poured into the college paper about the school radio station and “voice”.

9. It hurts very much to have my motives misread. About twenty years ago I was a literature evangelist traveling all over Oklahoma. Pagers we becoming popular at this time. This was before cell phones were popular. My grandfather died of a sudden heart attack and I always worried about my dad as well. I bought a pager so that if anything happened to my dad or mother while I was away I could find out and come back and be there for them. Since I was on a strapped budget someone accused me of wasting my money and just wanting to have the latest technology. That really hurt.

8. Back in the 80s when I had my own apartment in Tulsa, my mother was out of town. I called my dad to see what was up. He did not answer. I started getting worried. What if he had a heart attack and was laying alone on the floor with no one to help?  Being a guy I knew I could not act too concerned, so even though I had just done my laundry, I grabbed what little dirty clothes I had and headed over to my dad’s house “to do my laundry.” I was really just checking up on him. About the time I drove up to the house, my dad came in on his motorcycle, from an  evening ride. I just smiled, said hi and that I came to do my laundry. He just looked quizzically at my small bag of laundry.

7. I have openly claimed to be a Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, and now Tampa bay Bucs fan, but for several years now, I have found myself loving it whenever the Detroit Lions win. I have never expressed it, but for several years now I think I have been a Lions fan. No joke. I am serious.

6. I miss working for UPS. It was a hard challenging job with good pay and benefits. I loved rising to the challenge. I also loved becoming a UPS supervisor and helping other people rise to the challenge as well. I felt good about myself while working there. It was very hard to quit. I am very happy to be in Florida now, but I wish there was a way I could have continued part time with UPS. There wasn’t.

5.  When I was in the 5th grade a friend of mine and I prank called a girl in our class. She asked who we were and we hung up. I am not going to disclose what we said, but I felt so bad after my friend left, that I called her back and apologized. She asked again who I was. I just said, “hey I’m sorry” and hung up! What a geek! I’m the only prank caller in history to call back and apologize!

4. I know without a doubt that I am no way close to being the best preacher, Bible worker, golfer, or photographer in the world. I do however, believe I make the best enchiladas in the world.

3. Sometimes I counsel myself in second person. I get outside my head and tell myself objectively how things are, and how other people feel and how I should respond. I talk to myself as if I was counseling somebody else.

2. I golf alone as well as with friends. My greatest fear is that my hole-in-one will come when I am golfing alone.

1. In my career as a Bible worker and lay pastor, my heroes are not preachers or teachers. I idolize the old man standing at the bedside of his ill wife 24/7. I am amazed at the grade school girl who campaigned at her school to get Christmas gifts for poor children, while her birthday was in December and with a father out of work, she got no birthday gift, and never made an effort to benefit from her campaign.  I respect the pathfinder leader who, instead of taking home her personal awards, puts them in the trophy case at church for the team. I admire the family man who stops by the church while no one is around and paints and fixes things without anyone ever knowing he came by. There are so many people in my life, who see themselves as ordinary everyday people, but I love, admire and respect them more than they will ever know! And they have taught me more about Jesus than I have ever taught them.