She was the first to die. Robenia was fourteen, the only daughter in a family with five children, her young life taken by smallpox just four days before her fifteenth birthday. The year was 1920; my father (just 13 at the time) was too ill to attend her funeral. Yesterday, after much time spent gathering random pieces of data and assembling them, I managed to discover her grave stone, standing among weeds in a small, rural cemetery in Alma, Arkansas. A hand-carved stone, devoid of any embellishments or dates, is her only legacy. Her parents moved from the area in the 1930s and she has lain amongst those weeds, unknown and forgotten, all these years. Cemetery officials list her as “unknown”, so I sent them what little information I had available.
What was her life like, being a daughter of a poor farmer who frequently moved the family? Born in Vinita, Oklahoma Territory (Oklahoma would not be a state for two more years), her life would take her to Fairview, Missouri; then to Wetumka, Oklahoma; then to Nashville, Arkansas; then to Buffalo Creek, Missouri; then to Rosalia, Kansas; then to Traskwood, Arkansas before her final home in Alma, Arkansas. What were her childhood memories, being moved so often? What were her joys? Her sorrows? She knew my father as only a “big sister” could. What would she say of him? Being almost fifteen, she surely had dreams for the future, never considering that her life would so soon end. I so wish that I had known her, as I’m sure she would have added a new perspective to our small family.
In writing this, I think of Bruce Springsteen’s song, Someday We’ll Be Together – one of my favorites. There are those who believe we will be together in a hereafter and I wish it to be true. Talking to Robenia I would enjoy, and there are other family members I have never met, and others I may never see again. To be with them, to share memories with each other, to share the bond of family are just dreams, I know. In families there is a trait that brings a closeness that transcends other friendships, a caring and trust that is intrinsic and needs no discussion or explanation. Love binds.
Aunt Robenia, you left us too soon, as did all those who die young. I am saddened that your grave stood alone and unknown for so long, but you live on because you are now in my thoughts. There is only one photo of you, taken when you were just five years old, yet I see you in my heart at forever fourteen. Sleep well. You are loved.