In April 2010 I was attending a military course at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock, Arkansas. The course was two weeks long, but classes were not conducted on the weekend. I took the opportunity of the free weekend to drive up to Marshall, Arkansas to see if I could find Rambo Cemetery, where my grandparents (and other relatives) are buried. I hadn’t been to Marshall since the early 1990s, and I had never driven there myself. I left Camp Robinson early that Saturday morning with only directions to the city and the vaguest plan of “find the cemetery, snap photographs.” I had my camera, but no film and dead batteries.
During the drive my thoughts drifted to my grandpa, Daniel Graham. He had died in a hospital in Little Rock and his final journey was likely the same route back to Marshall that I drove that day.
Arrived in Marshall and drove slowly around town, taking in how much things had changed since I had been there last. I didn’t remember Marshall looking so run down. Seemed almost a ghost town. The stores that I remembered from the town square were mostly gone, replaced by various offices. It didn’t feel like the county seat to me, but then I come from the Big City so perhaps my expectations were skewed.
Drove past the house where my grandparents were living when grandpa died. Tried to find the houses where Uncle Leroy lived or his daughter Connie, who still lives in town, but couldn’t quite remember where they were located. It’s not like Marshall is that big, but my memory was that fuzzy.
Stopped at the Dollar General and the Harp’s grocer to get two rolls of film, batteries and snacks. Ate lunch at the Sonic Drive-In, then headed back out of town and up the mountain on County Road 9 (South Mountain Road) in search of Rambo Cemetery.
I thought I had a pretty good idea how to get to the cemetery. My grand uncle Charles had lived on the mountain, and I remembered that getting to the cemetery involved going past his place, taking a right turn somewhere, and crossing a creek on a low bridge. So that’s what I did, taking the right turn on County Road 8 (Hilltop Road) which crossed over the Red River on a low bridge. As it turned out, that’s what I shouldn’t have done. Had I gone straight I would have immediately arrived at Rambo Cemetery, laying just around the next bend. So I took a driving tour of the Ozarks instead, and eventually approached Rambo from the opposite direction about thirty minutes later. However, that delay would prove fortuitous.
I parked by the south gate and went in with my camera, giving a wave to the man on the riding lawn mower. He slowed and said, “If I get in yer way just let me know.” I smiled and said, “And if I get in your way, let me know!”
I remembered exactly where my grandparents are buried and went there first. I spent a long moment “visiting” them since I had a little bit of guilt I wanted to discard. In February ‘93 an ice storm had passed through the Midwest, and I refused to take the drive from Illinois to Arkansas to attend grandma’s funeral. I feared that the roads would be in terrible shape. The funeral was delayed two or three days because the ground at Rambo was too hard for the grave to be dug. So I apologized to grandma, wiped my eyes, and set about taking pictures.
As I made my way through the tombstones, I noticed that two women had arrived and were making their own way from marker to marker, the younger of the two making notes on paper. I figured that they were here doing the same thing that I was, documenting grave markers. I tried to stay out of their way and we circled around the cemetery at opposite ends for a while. Eventually, I ran out of film – two rolls wasn’t enough – and I resorted to writing down dates on a sheet of paper I had in my jacket pocket. As I was leaning to transcribe a marker, I overheard one of the ladies say, “I bet he’s related to us” in regards to me, since I had been looking at a marker they were also coming to see.
The ladies were Gail Feese and her mother, who were doing exactly what I was doing, documenting family history by transcribing the dates on the grave markers. I gave Gail my genealogical pedigree (“My grandma was Blanche Watts…”), she said “I think I know who you are” and flipped to the back of the pages in her hand, and there I was, listed in her own family research. So we were distant cousins. (I was also a distant cousin of the guy on the lawn mower, for Gail’s mom turned to him and yelled, “He’s related to us, too!”)
I spent the next hour or so walking through the cemetery with Gail and her mother, listening as her mom told me stories about the folks buried there that I didn’t even know were related to me. She pointed northeast across the field above the cemetery and said, “That’s where the Watts post office was at, in a log cabin over yonder.” Gail and I exchanged e-mail addresses, and she promised to send me copies of her research (which she did, and I am very grateful to have received). As we parted, Gail’s mother gave me directions to East Lawn Cemetery where my Uncle Leroy was buried.
Had I not made that wrong turn and ended up driving around for thirty minutes, I would’ve missed meeting Gail and her mom.