Buried History

A simple tombstone shows the numbers of two lives.

Allen O. and Mary Lee Stockton were my mother’s grandparents. He died in 1933, and she died five years later, in 1938. Widows commonly outlived their husbands, then and now.

The story beneath the tombstone is far more intriguing. Their oldest son Martin died in 1903, just 30 years old. Late in her life, my Aunt Lela told what happened afterward. A neighbor with a grudge made repeated phone calls (they were prosperous farmers, and had a telephone) to my great-grandmother, pretending to be Martin. According to my aunt, it drove her mother mad. In 1908 she was admitted to the Nebraska State Hospital for the Insane in Lincoln, with manic-depressive illness, and spent the rest of her life there. My great-grandfather died 25 years later, at the opposite end of the state from his wife. 

No one in my family ever talked about it. I found a census record listing my great-grandmother as a resident in the state hospital and pieced the story together from there. The effects of those events between 1903 and 1908 lasted long after the memory of them was lost to nearly everyone involved. My mother never met her grandmother. Her grandfather still lived on the farm where she was born and grew up, and she once told me how cruel the children in her town were to her, and how they teased her. She never said what they teased her about, but I can guess. Having a relative in the state mental hospital made her an easy target. 

She didn’t talk about her childhood on the farm, in the town where she grew up and graduated from high school. She had five living brothers and sisters in her family, a brother who died before she was born, and one who lived only three days in 1936. They must have had interesting stories about their lives, but we never heard them. Silence buried the family history.

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