A lot of people have written and spoken about the tiny little dash between the dates that represent the span of someone's life. As family historians, we are reminded that we should "put flesh on the bones," meaning we should remember our ancestors are more than just names/dates/places on the family tree.

The following article expounds on this in a remarkably moving manner.

Appalachian Tales: Virginia Grave Markers Recall Struggle in Life

by John Taylor Adams [probably should be James Taylor Adams]

There was the grave. One among hundreds. Different from its neighbors only in the inscription on the sagging headstone.

Warm autumn sunshine. A soft purple haze flooded the valley below.

Bill Starnes stretched himself on the browning bluegrass and settled his gaze on the eastern horizon.

The time was eventide. The day was the seventh of September. The year was 1821.

A two-story log house set against the Virginia mountain. A broad veranda. A rolling lawn.

William Hobbs came through the front door, carrying a cradle in his arms. Cautiously he descended the five steps and eased his burden to the ground.

Amelia Hobbs, walking ahead of her husband, found the cushioned chair which William had prepared for her.

William retraced his steps to the house and brought out the family Bible and a chair for himself. Billy and Sarah and John and Jane lay on the grass, forming a ring around the cradle.

Seating himself, and tilting back his hickory chair, William Hobbs opened the great book on his knees. With quill held aloft, he looked across at Amelia and smiled; and Amelia returned his smile with one of her own.

"For your grandmother and for my grandmother," he said, "we name this child Lydia Louise." And thus he wrote it down.

Time went on.

"William Hobbs' baby is lost!" The alarm spread over the Virginia hills and through the valleys.

Alone in a deep forest; toddling a dim trail; calling for mamma; looking for daddy; expecting to find brothers and sisters behind every bush and tree.

"No trace," said one neighbor. "No trace," echoed another, and another and another. And so on through a long and terrible night.

Gray in the east. Daybreak over the eastern hills. Found at last crouching half dead under a big log.

Golden hair. Blue eyes. Slim as a forest fawn. A smile, soft as her southern skies.

Duskdark and a harvest moon. Lydia Hobbs lifted her lips for Jonathan Starnes' betrothal kiss. They were married the next year in June.

Again time moved on ... and on ... and on.

Another home; another Bible. The same old cradle. And William Hobbs Starnes was the name which Jonathan and Lydia wrote down.

"Too crowded here," said Jonathan Starnes, one day, "Missouri is a fertile land."

Westward, and still westward, rolled the wagon train, led by the big bays of Jonathan Starnes.

Deep rivers, forded at risk of life and limb. Overturned wagons along the treacherous trails. Exposure to weather. Sickness. Death. New graves made beside the old along the trail. Through the level lands of Indiana and Illinois.

Beyond the Father of Waters, at last. Deep, rich soil; but an untamed wilderness. Blackjack walnut, scrub oak. And giant elms along the creeks and rivers.

A new home. Wild turkeys called. Buffalo browsed. Wolves howled, deep in the woods at night; and the catamount added his warning scream.

Then years of hard work and privation. Little John Tyler arrived to play with William Hobbs and was followed by Mary Jane. Building for the future.

Then ten years of plenty, bountiful harvest from the respondent soil.

Rumors of war floating into the frontier settlements. The North arrayed against the South. Lincoln would free the slaves. Missouri, it was said, would not take sides. But there was too much Virginia blood flowing in the veins of the Missouri men for them to stand aloof.

Jonathan Starnes was 41. He owned no slaves. Personally, he abhorred the system of human bondage. But he was Southern born and bred. He marched to the strains of Dixie. He fell in defense of Richmond and filled a grave in his native Virginia soil.

Lydia Louise was left alone with her two children, for William had marched with his father; and he, too, had fallen in defense of the Stars and Bars.

Five more years of hardship. Abject poverty. Privation that made the first ten, while clearing the forests away for a home, seem as years of beautiful living.

Property confiscated. Bacon hid in hollow logs. Little bags of corn put away in rock piles and in hollow logs.

Everything gone. Gathering sweet acorns. Grinding them on a handmill to make a sort of meal for bread. Burning maple chips and using the ash for soda. The wild pea as a substitute for the beans which the soldiers had carried off. Rough tow clothes, dyed to color by boiling in the juice of broomsedge grass.

Tyler was a grown man. Married, he was; and moved away to far off California. Mary and her husband were settled on the home place.

Came a letter from sister Sarah. She lived in Texas. Father, mother, and all the rest were dead. Billy had died in Canada; John in Georgia; and Jane, somewhere along the trail to California in 1849.

Time moved on.

Midwife and neighborhood. Not by choice, but through dire necessity. Sleepless nights by the bedside of sick and dying neighbors and friends. Lydia followed the long woodland trails; lonesome trails, hundreds of miles afoot and on horsebacks. Listening to whimpering first voices which, later, were to ring around the world.

Eighty is old age. Sarah had been in her grave for all of 20 years. Mary Jane and her husband were gone. Lydia lived in the old home with a grandson, Mary Jane's oldest boy.

Tyler and his nine children came home for a visit, the first in 30 years. His wife is dead. His oldest daughter is grown. His baby, Bill, is ten. "Oh, what a pretty child," said Lydia, of her grandson, "the very picture of Jonathan."

Another seven years. Tyler was dead and buried by his wife in California.

Another two years. And great-grandchildren and kind neighbors made the grave across which Bill Starnes was gazing now.

The sun was sinking behind the hills at his back. Reaching out a forefinger he traced the letters on the tombstone:

Lydia Louise Starnes
Born Sept. 7, 1821
Died Dec. 10, 1910

"And what does that tell?" said Bill Starnes, to himself, "of the toils and sorrow; the happiness and joys through 89 years of life?"

And, through the dusk, Bill Starnes went back down the Virginia hill, turning his face to the west.

Source: Kingsport Times-News, March 7, 1954, page 12-B

No copyright infringement is intended by posting this text here.

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