Once upon a time in a small town in Indiana, a young man named Cecil married a young woman named Violet on July 10, 1926. A little more than two years later, Violet died in the fall of 1928 of consumption (tuberculosis) at the age of 22. Her burial took place at Woodlawn Cemetery in Warren, Indiana. The grave is marked with a simple, small grey tombstone with black lettering.
On Christmas Day of 1930, Cecil married Edith. They were married for over 66 years. My mother is their first-born of four children.
I’m Cecil and Edith’s grandchild. I’ve been doing family history research for a little over a year now, though I’ve been interested in family stories and connections for much longer than that.
My mom refers to Memorial Day as Decoration Day. She isn’t alone in this tradition. My Dad’s relatives have a tradition of decorating family graves for Memorial Day. This usually happens on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend or a few days before that. Many relatives are buried in just a few cemeteries within a short driving distance. Sometimes there are several cars moving in a caravan from place to place; sometimes there are just one or two cars. Each family grave stone is cleaned. Weeds are pulled. Live flowers are planted or planters hung from hooks. Silk flowers are stuck into the ground. Photos are taken. We often end up at a local restaurant for a fun family lunch afterward.
We missed the decorating day this year, but my mom and I made the trip to Woodlawn on Saturday anyway. We had arranged to meet a couple of cousins there.
Mom and I happened to park near Violet’s grave. She is buried next to Grandpa’s brother who died of influenza at the age of 17 just a few years before Violet’s death. We have many relatives buried in that area of the cemetery.
Our cousins arrived and we stood talking for several minutes. As we chatted, I noticed a man and a woman walking from a car parked some distance away. They seemed to be making their way directly toward Violet’s grave.
Sure enough, they stopped right in front of her grave marker.
I couldn’t resist asking if they were related to Violet.
The woman looked at me intently and said, “Why are you asking?”
I replied that my grandfather had been married to Violet when she died.
The woman was flabbergasted. Her father was Violet’s brother; Violet had been her first cousin.
I pointed to my mother and said, “Cecil’s daughter is right over there.”
Mom and our cousins came over and everyone got introduced to each other. The woman, Leilani, and Mom had quite a conversation, and shared several reminiscences. They talked about Naomi who was the sole surviving person from that earlier generation. I remembered some of Leilani’s Aunts and Uncles. We had often gone with them and with my Grandparents on fishing vacations at cottages in northern Michigan.
I asked if Leilani had a photo of Violet. She said no but she would love to have one. I told her I had one and would be very happy to send it to her. Mom asked Leilani if she had any photos of her parents that she could share in return. She readily agreed. We exchanged addresses and promised to send the items soon.
I didn’t hear about “Grandpa’s first wife” until about 30 years ago. Grandpa was in the hospital and I was visiting my Grandmother at her home. She casually mentioned her concern that Grandpa might want to be buried by his first wife instead of beside her. I was shocked and speechless for a few moments. I had no idea he had been married before! My Grandparents had been happily married since 1930 and no one had EVER mentioned a previous marriage or anyone named Violet.
I quietly asked her a few questions. They were young. She was pretty. Her name was Violet. She was a Yount. She died of consumption. They didn’t have any children. She and Grandpa met a few years later and the rest, as they say, is history.
I assured Grandma that I was sure he would want to be buried next to her, not Violet.
So that is why the Yount family has always been close to Mom’s family. I thought they were just friends. The reason was much deeper — they were related by a long ago marriage that ended tragically.
I can’t help thinking — If Violet hadn’t died, my mother would not have been born and by extension, neither would I.
88 years after her death, I’m thankful Violet is remembered and her memory is honored by her family. I’m thankful for the encounter we had in the cemetery near her grave, discovering relatives in common after so many years.