Last night, I was cleaning out some old Facebook messages when I stumbled upon an entire cadre of messages which I never even knew existed. Now, maybe my settings are all out of whack and, if so, this won’t apply to you, but when I go to my messages, the only ones I’m able to see are the last few that have been sent.
But if I click “see all,” I (get this) see all of them. Only there’s a caveat. I “see all” that are in my inbox. There’s an entire other category called “other,” that I don’t see. Only I’d never noticed this “other” category till last night. So I clicked on it, and BOOM, there must have been 40 messages in there.
Many were from PR types, hoping I’d read a book or try an app, then blog about it. Others were from readers who had reached out with thoughtful things to say. And others, still, fell into the personal category.
I responded to all the ones from readers, but decided to blow off the PR messages because there was really no point in responding so late. (Many of them were over nine months old.) Then, I went through all the personal ones and responded to each of them, too.
And in so doing, I came across a man who was a genealogist who asked me if I was the same John Cave Osborne whose grandmother was Florelle Holt Osborne. I wrote back that I was and for the next 20 minutes the genealogist and I exchanged messages. With each one, I learned more and more about the genealogy on my father’s (Florelle’s son’s) side of the family.
The genealogist sent me a picture of Florelle’s mom — my great grandmother — when she was just 18 years old. The year was 1890 and she was standing with her graduating high school classmates, each one considering the camera with a formal if not stern expression, perhaps one reserved for such a ceremony. Or, for such newfangled technology.
Cora Ennis Holt was the young woman’s name. Well, at that time, she was still Cora F. Ennis. She’d not become Cora Ennis Holt till six years later when she would wed Julius Holt, my father’s maternal grandfather. I was familiar with both of my great grandparents’ surnames. My deceased sister’s middle name is Holt and my oldest sister’s middle name is Ennis.
I also recognized the entire name of Julius Holt. At least I thought I did, as my father has a cousin with such a name living in Peachtree City. But it couldn’t be the same Julius Holt because the Julius Holt I know of would be my father’s age, two generations younger than Cora’s husband. So I began to dig deeper and learned that the Julius I knew was this man’s grandnephew. Then I dug deeper still and discovered something that stopped me in my tracks.
My paternal great grandfather, Julius Holt, the maternal grandfather of my dad, committed suicide, leaving Cora to raise four children on her own — including my dad’s mom, my grandmother.
How did I never know this, I wondered. I called my mom to see if she knew. She didn’t. Though, upon further recall, she seemed to remember a time when my dad and Julius (his cousin — the grand nephew of the man who killed himself) were trying to divide some of the family furniture. There was a sleigh bed that neither of them wanted. Mom said it was because someone had died in it.
Putting two and two together, she now believes they told her of the suicide at that point, then quickly brushed it aside and never brought it up again. That my dad’s granddad, my great granddad, committed suicide.
I email my new Facebook friend, the genealogist, and ask him if he could shed any more light on the matter. He did, courtesy of a jpeg of an old newspaper article. It reads:
Fired bullet in brain yesterday morning and died within an hour without regaining consciousness.
Mr. J. B. Holt, prominent farmer living near Deepstep and well known here, shot himself through the temple yesterday at 11 o’clock and by noon he had passed away. The news of the tragedy was received here shortly after the occurrence and caused a distinct shock and profound sorrow to many who knew Mr. Holt as a sturdy, quiet man, good citizen and prosperous farmer.
The deceased was member of a prominent family and related to many of the most prominent people of this city and section to whom sincere sympathy has been tendered by many friends. It is believed financial worries proved to be the incentive which caused Mr. Holt to commit this rash act and in addition to this, poor health also contributed a part.
He is survived by his wife and several children.
The date on the story was November 6, 1914. Julius had killed himself the day before. After some quick math, I figured out that my grandmother, his daughter, had turned 16 just two weeks prior.
I sat despondent for a spell. First, because I never even knew.
But second because of how heavy my heart suddenly was for Cora and all of her children. These things leave marks, you know. And I began to wonder about the mark it inevitably left on all of them, including my dad’s mom and, in turn, if perhaps she’d inadvertently bequeathed my dad such a mark.
I then wondered if I had a mark, but I decided I didn’t and moved on to the next personal message, suddenly in desperate need of some levity. And I found just that when I stumbled upon a note from a man whose name I recognized, but whose face I couldn’t place. His avatar, an American flag, wasn’t helping. The text was brief:
Big Daddy from Hilton Head Island circa 1992? Is this you?
Ah, yes. My Big Daddy phase. It had to do with a rubber chicken that I carried around with me 24/7 (no, I don’t know why) and a reasonably substantial partying habit, both of which accompanied me to Hilton Head Island where I was an esteemed pizza delivery guy during the summer of 1991 (the man had been mistaken re: 92) — the very same summer I spent galavanting about with a cast of merry hoodlums, this gentleman apparently being one of them. The rubber chicken was named Big Daddy, though, through our close association, the name had passed on to me.
Just so you know — this was the look I was going with back then:
Note the duct tape holding together my left hiking boot. And the multi-colored cloth belt. And the immaculate bonnet I swept back with my hat. I know. Caroline would have been so impressed. Especially with the necklace. Caroline’s a sucker for a man in a good necklace.
Anyway, I wasn’t sure how to respond as, yes, his name rang a bell for certain, but without a face, I couldn’t 100% place. If only I had a face, I thought. Still, a friend of Big Daddy is a friend of mine. So I sent my erstwhile cohort the following:
So, number 1 — YES, this is Big Daddy from HHI circa 1992. No question. And number 2…your name’s right there, bro, in the dark recesses of my mind, but your avatar isn’t letting me connect it with the face I’m certain I’d remember. Regardless — those were fun days, no?
He responded with an explanation of who he was as well as a picture. But I didn’t need the explanation. Because when I saw the pic, I immediately remembered. He was one of these three cats from Philly who were all super cool. Much like the young JCO, these boys were not afraid. Fancied themselves as invincible. Bullet proof. Reasonably smooth, if I recall correctly, with the ladies. The kind of young, dumb, but lovable boys who eventually grow up to be men. Husbands. Fathers.
Only my friend told me that one of his trio didn’t make it. A guy I’ll call Steve. He died seven years ago “from a battle with drugs he could never beat.”
I replied with my sincerest condolences, friended him (which he accepted) then rummaged through his pics. With each one, I remembered more and more about the man who’d reached out to me. This despite the fact that our only exposure was but one beautiful summer a lifetime ago.
He was a great guy. A ton of fun. Handsome fella. Went on to marry a beautiful wife. Has three beautiful kids. And I could tell from going through his FB pics why we’d hit it off over two decades ago: he’s a relationship guy, and so am I. They mean more to him than anything else. It was obvious.
There were several pictures of Steve, the man who died. He had been my long-lost friend’s best man at his wedding some 16 years prior. In every shot, the bond between the two was palpable.
I then stumbled across pictures of the Philly trio from that magical summer. Back in the day. Our day. When Steve was alive and well. And in seeing these, I remembered more, still about him. About them.
And about me, too.
I studied studied Steve. The one who got stuck, presumably, in the place that was so much fun till it suddenly wasn’t any longer. And I’m here to tell you, there’s very little difference between him and the rest of us. Maybe a decision or two that was made. Or a few that weren’t. But, other than that, not much difference at all.
What a night, I thought, as I closed my laptop and headed off to bed. Two hidden Facebook messages which had gone undetected for months had both snatched me up and deposited me into two different tragedies, one involving family, one involving friends, a century apart.
The tragedies had consumed me, the ones I re-lived, despite having never lived them in the first place. And each had made me consider myself from a different perspective. In a different light. And because of that, each became a part of me. Officially, that is. Because they’d really always been a part of me. I just didn’t know it.
Further evidence, I suppose, of why life is so incredibly beautiful, even in its melancholy.
Not that I needed any.
Read more of JCO Multiplied:
NYC Nanny Killings: Personalizing the Tragedy
7 Things You Should NOT Discuss With the Parents of Triplets
How the DVR Ruined My Vacation in Specific and Parenting in General
15 Things Every Stepparent Should Know
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