His parents named him, “Odd” and all his life he absolutely hated it. When he was just a little kid, the other kids would point to him and say, “That’s Odd” and laugh like crazy. Later in school the teachers would smile behind his back and whisper, “That’s Odd.”
He hated his name so much that on his death bed he requested that it be left off his tombstone.
“Just put the date of birth and the date of death,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to point to my marker and say my name and laugh."
When he died, his request was answered with only the dates chiseled into his granite marker, so now visitors to the cemetery point to that grave, read the date of birth and the date of death but no name. Then they point to that grave and say, “That’s Odd.”
I spend a lot of time in cemeteries because walking among the markers is a stroll through history. One noticeable fact about old tombstones is that women aren’t given credit for anything except being some man’s wife. The words often read, "wife of John Doe," as if that identification was enough and all that a woman might want to be remembered by.
Like most women, I love to shop and for years, while shopping in Stephenville, I’d see the same elderly woman, always neatly dressed in heels, dress and coat. One time I asked Alma Freels at Bealls about the mysterious shopper. She told me that the woman’s husband had died and that every day she went shopping and then she visited her husband’s grave.
Then that lady died too and her relatives had a garage sale. Her house was packed with dresses, mostly with the tags still on, so they said. The story was then told that while her husband was alive, he was something of a grouch and fussed a lot if she went shopping and spent “his” money for new clothes. They were married for more than 40 years before he passed away.
So once he died and was buried, his widow went shopping. In fact she enjoyed it so much she just went clothes shopping almost every afternoon. After buying a new dress she’d visit his grave and show him what she had bought. They told me that she would walk around his grave with her latest purchase displayed over her arm and ask him what he thought about it right before she called him some names not to be printed in a family newspaper. I don’t really have to hear what she said; I have a vivid imagination. After all she had the last word!
My daughter and son-in-law take me with them on a road trip once in awhile. I love road trips, especially when I don’t have to do the driving and can just lounge around in the back seat and study the other drivers on the road and the horses and cows in the pastures. On this trip we were headed for Austin to visit the most famous cemetery in the state of Texas, the Texas State Cemetery.
At the time, Barbara had just bought a “talking car” and I found that fascinating. The first time a woman’s voice came out of the dashboard and announced, “You have an incoming call,” she had my attention; reminded me of that old television program, “My mother the car.”
GPS devices in cars are pretty common today. Maybe you have one and your car that talks to you and if so you are familiar with the command, “Turn around at the first opportunity!” I hate it when that happens. I know where I am going and I’m taking a short cut or maybe I just decided that I didn’t want to go to Sipe Springs after all. I made up a new name for the GPS. The letters stand for “God Please Save us.”
After awhile in Austin traffic we got to the cemetery and then spent a couple of hours touring the 18 acre final resting place of some of Texas’ most notable people and reading what was chiseled on their tombstones. Some of the markers didn’t really need names. The one with the snappy fedora had to be Tom Landry’s marker. By the way Tom isn’t buried in the State Cemetery. His remains are in Dallas but there is a red granite cenotaph for him in Austin as there are markers for several other memorable Texans not buried there. There is a marker for Susanna Dickinson a lady who survived the Alamo. Her cenotaph includes a sculpture of her holding her baby.
Barbara Jordon, the first black congresswoman from Texas has a massive marker that had to be lifted over the fence with a crane. Her marker has “Teacher” and “Patriot” carved on it.
Bob Bullock, who initiated the Texas History museum, and the clean-up of the State Cemetery, was a powerful figure in the Texas legislature and coined the phrase, “God Bless Texas”. Those three words are carved on his stone. I like those words and had them painted in letters six feet high on the tin roof of my old hay barn.
A bronze statue of Stephen F. Austin, the father of Texas, dominates Republic Hill and the words on his marker read, “Wise, Gentle, Courageous, Patient.” What a great epitaph for a great man!
On a rise overlooking a field of headstones for Confederate Veterans, is the tomb of Albert Sidney Johnston. His statue lies in repose inside a Gothic-style structure carved from white marble. Johnston was a General serving in the army for three different countries: The Republic of Texas, The United States, and the Confederate States of America. He was killed at the battle of Shiloh in 1864 while leading soldiers in the War Between the States. He had requested to be buried in Texas with a handful of Texas dirt resting on his chest. His request was carried out.
Last night I watched “The Jazz Singer” with Al Jolson on Turner Classic Movies. The movie was filmed in 1927 and was the first talking picture. People were stunned to hear Jolson’s singing voice coming out of the speakers. Until that point in time, movies had been silent and ran with subtitles which were often read out loud so that those who had never learned to read could understand the story. Al Jolson was a star of vaudeville but until “talkies” he wasn’t a movie star because his main attraction was his voice. After his first song in the movie, the audience went wild, and he looked into the future and proclaimed, “You ain’t heard nothing’ yet!”
What a true statement that was. From movies that talked to cars that talk all in my lifetime.
I know a man that finally got a cell phone. He told me, “This phone is a remarkable invention. Why my wife calls me at H.E.B. She calls me at Wal-Mart. She calls me at Jake and Dorothy’s. How does she know where I am?
We are all on life’s journey. When it is completed, the world will see what is written on the tombstone. God will know what is written on the heart.
Joyce Whitis is a freelance writer living in Erath County. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-968-8450.