Someone to remember

By Lori Tenold · Friday, December 14, 2012
Everyone wants to be remembered. My classmate’s mom has said that this is the greatest gift that you could give someone. She says this with special meaning behind the words, because 33 years ago this past summer, her son died in a car accident. He was 16, and a West Liberty High School student. I am determined to remember Chris Wicks on a yearly basis, just because. Chris and I were certainly not close friends, just classmates by circumstance and chance, thrown into an odd sort of family. But, I know what it feels like to feel forgotten. Acts of remembrance can make someone live forever, in a unique and personal way.

Even though death is difficult to think about, I still find a peace and calmness when I go out to local cemeteries such as Oak Ridge, Mount Calvary or Prairie, or our home cemetery in St. Ansgar, Iowa, and walk the grounds. There are so many people I remember buried there, and they are somehow frozen in time, never aging. Maybe I remember them because they were in my sister’s age group, or my brother’s age group, or even mine. Maybe I didn’t know them personally, but I remember the timing of their death, their name, and just thinking about them reinforces the fact that they once lived, breathed, hoped and dreamed in a little Iowa town. All of the players in our life, whether family or not, become our roots. Simone Weil said, “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”

My personal acts of remembrance on my local “cemetery walk” take me past the grave of Linda Keith, who died in a motorcycle accident on May 4, 1971, my sister’s era. Two months before, the class of 1970 lost another member, Terry Swenka, in a similar incident. They had both just turned 19. I walk to see Rita Duncan, who was killed getting off the school bus on Dec. 5, 1972. She was 12 and I was 10. I visit Dea Stalkfleet, who was memorialized in my brother’s 1973 yearbook. She died on May 4, 1972, of a tragic in-home accident. She was 15 and I was nine. My sister says that everyone in school at the time talked about her beautiful smile. I remember the names Danny Martin and David Eichelberger. They died the same day, July 4, 1975, and no matter what the circumstances were, they both had families left behind to grieve.

I walk to see David Lawrence, who died of leukemia on November 16, 1978, soon after he had graduated. He was 18 and I was 16, and he had thick brown curly hair. I remember how distraught one of my classmates was when he died, as they were close friends. I visit Cindy Dunnahoo, who was killed in a car accident the fall after we graduated. She was just starting her senior year, and we were just starting our post-graduation era. She had the most beautiful long golden hair. I walk to see Tom Simon, who died on September 23, 1991, in a tragic construction accident on the interstate. I remember riding the bus with Tommy, and thinking that he was such a sweet kid. He was four years my junior. I visit Tim Costello, my own classmate who died on January 17, 1985, after having been in a vehicle accident a month before.

We were 22 at the time. I always remember how funny Tim was, and how polite he was to my Mom when she’d chat with him while he was on the job at the grocery store. They talked about his future plans, a future he never got to enjoy. I visit Suzy Kline, another classmate, who died on October 5, 1986, after having given birth to a daughter a few days earlier. More recently, I walk to see parents of classmates, former neighbors like Berle Brooke and Chet Beach, or my sister Jill’s lifelong special friend, Annette Martinez. And Bruce Smith, who died in serving our country. I get emotional when I hear his comrades fly over the cemetery in their helicopter, often around his birthday or the anniversary of his death. I admire their loyalty.

I have these desires to connect in part because of the gift of history that my parents have left me, especially mom. Dad wrote history books for his family, after an inheritance allowed him to go to Norway to search the archives for information. But Mom kept scrapbooks/photo albums, and told us stories to reinforce the impact of her family life. She told us so many stories about family members I have never even met, and I feel so close to them because of it. Not only tales about her parents and grandparents, but also her brother, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Up north in our family cemetery, I visit my parents, sister, brother, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents and other extended family, all on the same grounds. They all have a story. In this cemetery that’s filled with people she knew throughout her life, my mom would point to a stone, and say “this person was this to me, or that person was that to me.” She would remember them, and share the part they played in her life. They were all in a close circle of family back in the day, sometimes living across the street from each other. For example, we know the story of my great uncle Oral Culbertson, who was killed in 1927 when the car he was riding in was hit by a train. He was 17. Mom kept a copy of his obituary in her albums. Now every time my sister and I visit that area and drive over that railroad track, we remember Oral. In 2009 when he would have turned 100, we celebrated with cake in his memory. Mom was most pleased in the last few years of her life when I had put together a genealogical Christmas tree. Multiple silver picture frame ornaments adorn the tree, each with a small face of a deceased family member. Their names and years of birth and death are on the back, for future reference. A picture of connectedness we would most likely never have envisioned without my mom planting a seed that brought the family tree to life, and in the process making her children the beneficiaries of her personal experiences and recollections.

So many young people, so much family history, so many memories. I think of the rich family history in this town, and the people that are blessed with large and extended families, something my siblings and I have only experienced through these stories or distant memories. Just remembering these people, whoever they are, brings justice, and gives continued meaning to their lives, however long a life they lived. I hope everyone out there who knows someone special who has come and gone, will take a mother or a father or a sister or a brother or an aunt or an uncle or a son or a daughter or a distant family member you have never met under their memory wing, for what it’s worth. Learn about them. Find out what their story was. Maybe you can remember them on their birthday, or Memorial Day, or the date of their untimely death. It can be a family member, a friend, a classmate, an acquaintance or someone you’ve only read about.

As my favorite songwriter says, “And all of us from dust to dust, we all become forefathers by and by.” Everyone wants to be remembered, and one day it will be you and it will be me. Celebrate someone’s life, and have some cake.

Lori Tenold- West Liberty Resident since 1968

In Memory- Geraldine Tenold:

December 9, 1923 – July 9, 2010

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