Every fall I think of this story. It happened 20+ years ago, and while it seems quaint and only slightly spooky now, I’ll admit that in the moment it gave me pause.
LONG BEFORE THERE WERE BLOGS, the first person I *met* online was Darlie Ann.
I was doing genealogical research in the time before Ancestry.com. Back then to find someone with knowledge about your ancestors you needed to leave inquiries on message boards that were on cemetery websites or historical society websites or county genealogical websites.
It was hit or miss.
On one of those boards I left an inquiry about my great uncle, trying to see if anyone knew anything about his early days as a lawyer in a small Ohio town that is north of where I lived then.
Darlie Ann, who lived in Texas, saw my inquiry and contacted me via email to say that her father had been my great uncle’s law partner– and that she had a few sheets of stationery from their law practice.
We communicated back and forth via email, and she offered to send me a sheet of the stationery to add to my file. I reciprocated by sending her a copy of a group family reunion photo that showed my uncle as an older man.
• • •
DARLIE ANN AND I STAYED IN TOUCH FOR YEARS, like penpals, writing about our lives, exchanging Christmas cards, updating each other about any genealogical research we did.
In fact, in one email Darlie Ann mentioned that recently she’d been to Ohio visiting our small town and had gone to the cemetery where my parents are buried. She’d taken the opportunity to find their graves, snapped 2 photos of their tombstones, and sent them to me.
So that I’d have the photos for my records.
• • •
CHRISTMAS ROLLED AROUND THAT YEAR, but I didn’t get a card from Darlie Ann. It seemed odd, but she was older, born around the time my mother was, so perhaps she forgot me?
In the following months I emailed her a few times but got no reply. I wasn’t entirely surprised because I knew she was selling her house and moving into an apartment. I figured she was busy.
Welp, one beautiful fall day I opened my desk drawer and saw Darlie Ann’s photos of my parents’ tombstones. I hadn’t been to the cemetery in years, and it kind of tugged at me that I should go visit. So I decided that the next day I’d take a mental health day and drive 3 hours each way to go visit them.
And I did.
• • •
I GOT TO THE CEMETERY and parked my car by the oak tree that I use as a guidepost for getting to my parents’ graves in this older part of the cemetery. But when I walked across the grass to where I thought they were buried I realized I’d parked about an acre north of where they were.
Wrong oak tree.
So I started to walk south casually glancing at the tombstones as I went. Almost immediately I found myself looking at a new grave with a shiny new tombstone.
This was unusual in this older part of the cemetery. These lots had been owned, and filled, by families from generations back. But what was most fascinating about this discovery, and slightly unnerving, was the name I saw on the new tombstone.
Whose grave was I visiting on this glorious autumn day? It was Darlie Ann, my first internet friend, who’d died a few weeks before and had come back home to be buried in this cemetery in the small town of her birth.
Now how trippy is that?