There should have been three headstones, at least that’s what I remember, but there were only two. My Grampie and Grammie, Theodore “Ted” (1973) and Audrey Irene (1981), are there but there was no third headstone and the cemetery could find no record that a baby Jackie had ever been buried there.
I was sure I had seen three headstones after my grandather was buried, I told Brett, the cemetery manager there. I vividly remember the shock of seeing his headstone and learning that my dad had an older brother. One no one had ever talked about – to me that is. I remembered a headstone. Or did I?
In Montana for a family reunion near Whitefish last weekend, I stopped off to visit the graves on my way home to Boise. The Missoula Cemetery is beautiful, peaceful. Extensive hardwood canopies shade row after row of headstones. Soft, thick emerald green grass overlays the graves. I found myself thinking I’d like a final resting place like that, not so much for me but for those who love me.
Where a person is laid to rest, cremated or enbalmed, is for those who remain to decide. Summer sprinklers tsk tsk tsk their soothing rythym. I think I could “live” there. The Professor wants to be cremated and has already arranged his internment in Boise in the Veteran’s Cemetery behind a wall of cold marble. I think I prefer being covered in grass and trees instead. But I won’t be there, so I’ll let others decide.
“You go down here,” Brett instructed as he highlighted my grandparents’ plots in bright yellow. “You’ll find them both to the right in Block 50A, almost to Blackthorn Street.”
Sure enough, they were exactly where he showed me. But there was no Jackie with them, nor had there ever been. After a computer search of the database, Brett said, “No Jackie Torell is buried in this cemetery.”
“Are you sure,” I asked? “I know I saw the headstone because I was so suprised by it.”
He was sure. “Maybe he’s in the Catholic Cemetery?” Brett suggested. “Or out at Lolo since his parents were living there in 1925 when he died?”
I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t trust my memory which had Jackie’s headstone next to theirs.
So I visited my grandpaprents’ graves and then climbed in my car to drive home. I had promised to send a photo of Jackie’s headstone so I called my cousin Cindy in Minnesota. Cindy (and my cousin Kristen) are the keepers of our family tree. As of a few years ago they had us broken down in 394 families descended from Per Mårtensson, born 1812 in Lövvik 2, Undersvik, Sweden.
My great-grandfather Jonas Perrson Thorell’s branch of the tree is Family 8, his son’s branch (my Grampie) is Family 40, and my father’s branch is Family 104. My branch is Family 218 and our daughter’s branch is 348. Per and his descendants didn’t let any grass grow under their feet before they got covered in the stuff.
If you’ve read my blog post about Dutch Em, the Atlanta, Idaho prostitute about whom very little is known besides that she froze to death and is buried in the outcast section of the Atlanta Cemetery, you know that it bothers me that people who lived, loved, and breathed are so easily forgotten. Freud might say that I’m afraid the same fate will befall me, but I’m not convinced. With the Internet keeping everything we’ve ever posted, I believe I’ve left a wide enough trail for future generations.
No, what bothered me about Jackie being missing was that he was so utterly alone and lost to us – no one but me was looking for him. If I didn’t find him, who would? My grandparents are long gone, my parents are gone, and my cousin’s entire family passed this year from COVID.
As I pulled out of the cemetery, I told Cindy I couldn’t find him. It bothered me. A lot. But I had tried. Then I called my other cousin Darlene and told her too.
“No, there was a baby,” Darlene insisted. “He didn’t live very long and was born about the time they lived in Lolo at the lumber camp.”
Cindy agreed. In fact, she looked on the Internet and called me back within five minutes with the location of Jackie’s headstone in the Missoula Cemetery!
Brett looked up the plot numbers she gave me and learned why there was no record. A clerical error on the internment receipt (it cost $10 to bury him) was responsible for our confusion The official record said that Theodore Terrell was buried in his plot (though his headstone read Jackie Torell).
The cause of Jackie’s death at 10-days old was inanition, a term foreign to both Brett and me. Disturbingly, it was a farily common cause of death for children and infants in that time. According to the Journal of Ancient Diseases and Preventive Remedies, inanition is starvation, “a critical deficiency in caloric power, nutrient, and vitamin intake. It is the farthest pattern of malnutrition. In humans, prolonged starvation may lead to permanent organ damage and finally, death. The term inanition mentions to the symptoms and effects of starvation.” Another site said a commmon cause was digestive failure of one sort or another.
When our daughter the Realtor was born, she didn’t gain weight. At first I breastfed exclusively and didn’t have the right nutrients for her. It was failure to thrive, the doctor said. Watching her tiny body writhe as she turned purple and shrieked because she was hungry (we didn’t know) was heartbreaking. A supplement of formula once a day satisfied her and she recovered before permanent damage was done.
I can well-imagine Grammie trying to soothe Jackie for 10 days without success. I can imagine her watch him die, sobbing for her first born. She was a stern woman who loved babies – maybe she was remembering Jackie as she held them.
Jackie was named for his father, my grandfather Theodore (Ted). I can only imagine they buried him as Jackie so they could pass the name on to their next son, my father, Donald Theodore. It seems they seldom spoke of Jackie again.
That was almost a century ago. He is gone. They are gone, and many of those who came after them are also gone. Only a handful of us remain to care about what happened to him.
Babies who die young are too easily forgotten within a generation or two or three. This week I made sure that at least one will not be. The final resting place and headstone of my infant uncle, Theodore “Jackie” Torell, age 10 days, has been found and will be forever registered correctly in the Missoula Cemetery.
Baby Jackie is there after all. He wasn’t really lost – just a few rows away from where I expected to find him. When I am gone, if anyone else comes looking, they’ll find him there close by his parents and listed on the registry of the Missoula Cemetery. And that feels so right to me.