“I think that when you die, you should be able to hold on to your history and who you are and for others to know that here is this person and not just be put into an unmarked grave and no one knows your name. We all deserve our life history and for people to know who we are and where we are.”
— Dr. Jennifer Love, a forensic anthropologist who works to identify people who have died
“I would count him as a top ten, maybe a top five of all time, and he wasn’t even a Chief Justice. This is a devastating loss for people who love this country. It’s a devastating loss for those of us who love the Constitution. . . . It’s an absolute disaster.”
Yesterday I came across three documents¹ related to the premature death of my great-great-great grandfather John Shannon Boal. He must have known death was coming for him, because two weeks prior, on May 31ˢᵗ, 1878, he wrote up a will.
Little is known today about this branch of the family, primarily because of the untimely deaths, I think. The chain of traditions and stories being passed down from generation to generation was continually broken, which reminds me of a quote from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, a favorite of mine which I feature separately on my blog’s main page.
“And some things
that should not have been
forgotten were lost.
History became legend.
Legend became myth.”
Somehow the fact that Nettie had siblings, all sisters, had escaped the family tree that I had compiled from previous generations. I’d been working on it diligently for years, but somehow neglected this side until this year, when I discovered one sister and then another. And, now, thanks to the will, we have yet another.
Edna Boal had slipped through, unknown to us and perhaps even my great grandmother, Nettie’s daughter Geneva, who shared a middle name with her Aunt Stella. Three other sisters had passed unnoticed, too, for years: Estella, Blanche, and Jennie. Somehow they had been forgotten.
After I asked Grandma about Nettie’s sisters, she did recount what she knew. My grandmother remembers her mother telling her about visiting Aunt Blanche in California, when she took a trip west to see her younger brother Walter. But that’s about all we know. That’s it.
John apparently served during the Civil War. But I’ve been unable to find any record that he did.
It’s sad. These people, relatives, and their stories have been lost. One of my goals is to get back as much as we can, to restore their lives in our memories.
I will be writing about the other two documents, probate records involving the administration of John Boal’s estate and the care of the five children, and uploading them later.
Finally I’ve come to understand who had taken in my great-great grandmother and her sister Stella after their parents had died young. It was their aunt, sister of their father, and her husband, James W. Harrison.
Sarah Jane Boal, daughter of William Boal and Anna Marie Shannon, had married Mr. Harrison in 1866. Her brother John Shannon Boal had married Ann Almeda Foster two years earlier. They had four daughters: Nettie, Jennie, Stella and Blanche. John’s wife died in 1874. He died four years later, in 1878.
So the kids were split up. Jennie and Blanche went to stay with the maternal grandparents, the Fosters, while Nettie and Stella went to live with their aunt Sarah Jane and her family.
For years I’d been wondering how the heck these Harrisons fit into the picture, and now I know.
I learned about his death from a friend on Facebook, who was understandably shocked. Sadly, I know of a few other classmates who have died as well. I even went to a service for one of them, Troy Sikel, another talented man and fellow actor, despite my aversions to crowds and strangers.
The latest, Daren VanDewalker, I knew from wandering into the high school theater one day. What I was doing there I really don’t know. It was probably partly my brother’s influence, who had caught the acting bug a few years before.
I remember one day our teacher, who I can still hear bellowing my name as if I’m in some sort of trouble, wanted us to do some improv. Daren was sitting in a big circle with a group of us students. Everyone was having a raucous, good time. I was mostly just watching that day. I don’t recall doing much improvisation myself. I do remember being fascinated by the camaraderie.
Another memory is one time being given the task of acting the part of a man who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I had no idea what to do, so I just reacted to what my compatriot, the doctor, said. It was amazingly effective. I’ve heard famous actors say that the key to acting is listening. It’s very true.
Understated is often best, I learned. Our drama teacher had given me that assignment, at least in part, because I was often very prone to comedic buffoonery, rather than serious drama. Many of my roles in the various plays during my four years offered comedic relief, and I loved doing it.
Now, however, I’m much less the attention seeker, though I cherish those memories. I’ve reverted back to my introverted self. Today, I’m more of a recluse.
Life is certainly fickle. His death is a reminder that we are temporal. We must live in the moment and cherish every minute. I need to remember these harsh life lessons.
Daren, a mere 42 years old, barely more than a year older than myself, died from a stroke. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, his wife and four kids, and his sister, Denise.
After learning about the untimely passing of a former fellow actor from the drama program at my alma mater, Douglas McKay High School in Salem, Oregon, I did a cursory search of his name and discovered the obituary of his father, Steven Hugh VanDewalker, who also died relatively young, in 2012 at the age of 61.
Steve VanDewalker was born in Ashland, Oregon, attending college there and marrying his high school sweetheart, Rebecca MacCollister, before eventually moving to Salem. He worked for Morton Salt for 24 years.
I didn’t know the family well, but we did attend the same church, Morning Star. His two children, Daren and Denise, and I also went to the same high school during that time.
Daren and I were active in the choir and drama. That’s where I got to know him. He had a major role in my first play, the terrific musical West Side Story. It was a great experience, for the most part. I’ve rarely seen so many incredibly talented people gathered together in a cast before.
I, however, was a shy, introverted, skinny, naïve nerd. Going on stage, slowly brought me out of my exile and into other worlds.
It was shocking to learn that Daren had died, through a Facebook post by one of his friends, Joe Litke. I got to know Joe via the youth group at Morning Star and various mission trips, including one to Modesto, California.
Life is, indeed, short. For most of us, way too short.