I'm taking the lazy route this morning and posting my most recent River Journal column. I've written segments of this story on the blog---back in July---but the column pretty much provides an overall view. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope it may prompt some of you to do some family research of your own.
By Marianne Love
For The River Journal
I almost hung up on Huck. I thought he was a telemarketer. What else is one to think when an evening caller says, “I’m looking for William Love”? Spells telemarketer to me, and I seldom give them the time it takes me to drop what I’m doing, trip over my feet running to the phone, pick up and learn it’s some script reader trying to help out a good cause.
I like good causes, but I resent anonymous callers trying to rake in a buck over the phone in the name of these entities. I’ll initiate my own donating decisions, thank you!
For some unknown reason, I extended Huck more mercy than usual. Good choice, I quickly learned.
“And what do you wish to speak to him about?” I asked rather cynically.
“His mother Helen was my grandmother,” the yet unknown voice said, “Bill is my uncle.”
Oops! Huck was NOT a telemarketer, and I now had a mystery on my hands as well as telephone receiver ready to pass on to Bill.
“This gentleman says he’s your nephew,” I told my husband.
Curiosity got the best of me. I raced upstairs and picked up the other phone. Huck Walling from Oklahoma was telling Bill how he had come on to Bill’s name and number. He’d first tried Monroe, Louisiana, reaching a nonworking number. Two William Loves were listed for Idaho, one in Boise, one in Sandpoint.
Bill was quick to tell him the other was our son, Willie who had recently moved from Boise to Sandpoint.
After that, a fascinating family story unfolded.
Up until that early March evening, our two children and I had figured Bill’s only other living relative was his twin sister Margaret. I was astonished to learn that he and Margaret had an older half sister but saddened when Huck explained to me that the sister had died in a tragic automobile accident near Oklahoma City in the early 1950s.
The family had been on their way into the city where their mother planned to pick up the gifts she had purchased on “layaway.”
Thanks to the efforts of another family member, on Christmas Day that year, in the hospital, the two small children did open their presents, purchased by their mother. Otherwise, all other reminders of the tragedy, including sympathy letters, family pictures, news clippings about the accident and the funeral guest list were sealed in a box and put away. Throughout their lives, Huck and Sandy referred to the container as the “The Sad Box” and never opened it.
Mildred “Millie” Walling’s death and her husband’s lengthy recovery also meant that Huck and Sandra Walling would grow up living with their paternal grandparents, learning very little about their other grandmother Helen Tingle Love or the young aunt and uncle born to her 22 years after their own mother.
About five years after Mildred Walling’s death, another tragedy led to even more family separation. Helen Love died of cancer, leaving behind a set of 7-year-old twins, Bill and Margaret. Her husband Edgar would eventually remarry. From that point on, Bill and Margaret’s lives centered primarily around the new family with little or no word of the Oklahoma relatives.
Fast forward several decades. Huck Walling lives in Tulsa and co-owns SageNet, (www.sagenet.com) a provider of broadband data networking solutions. His sister Sandy, an adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma and consultant for nonprofit groups, lives in Oklahoma City.
Both reared their own families, and life has moved on with no word of whatever happened to their aunt and uncle. Now retired, Huck’s wife Debbie dabbles in genealogy.
One day earlier this year, she asked “about my mother’s family,” Huck told me recently. “I always remember thinking, ‘Now, what was my mother’s maiden name??? Millie Love or Millie Jones or what? Very confusing for us kids.
“I had no idea where to begin, so Debbie went straight to her Internet tool kit (www.whitepages.com) and searched for William Edgar Love, Jr.,” Huck explained. A few minutes later, Huck and Bill were comparing notes over the phone about their faint memories of a time so long ago.
In that conversation Bill remained characteristically cautious but realized later that Huck was the “real deal” after bringing up a toy sword that had captured the fascination of the two little boys during a rare childhood meeting. Huck described the sword in detail.
A few minutes into that first conversation, I asked Huck if he had any photos of Bill’s mother. I learned a few months later that my inquiry that evening led to even more emotional discoveries for the Walling siblings.
“This inquiry sent me to ‘The Sad Box,’” Huck explained to me. “It was a green, metal locking box . . . we could write a book about ‘The Sad Box’ and its contents, but you may rest assured I had never opened it before your inquiry.” Huck and Sandy grew up in a time when adults put tragedies behind them, rarely talking of them.
“As children, Sandy and I never heard much about our mother. When anyone would speak about her, the waterworks came on,” he recalled. “We adopted a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy long before it became popular.”
When his paternal grandmother died, Huck became keeper of “The Sad Box.”
“I was resigned to open it some day and view its contents,” he said. “After only 58 years, I was finally man enough to face my past with the assurance that I could handle and get over anything that came my way.”
Once opened, “The Sad Box” almost instantly turned into “The Glad Box.”
Huck and Debbie found a photo of Bill’s mother along with a host of letters written between the families after the auto accident. They also found the funeral guest registry for Mildred, which included a curious signature.
Huck’s maternal grandfather Talmadge Jones (first husband to Helen Tingle) had signed the list and had included “Wanda Jane Jones (baby sister)” of Orange, Tex. Turns out that Wanda was Millie Walling’s half sister from another of Jones’s marriages. Huck wasted no time looking up her name in the white pages and stunningly found it.
He dialed the number and identified himself. Upon hearing Huck’s voice and explanation, Wanda Jane Jones, a retired school principal, immediately asked him if his eyes ever got better. The trauma of the accident had caused Huck’s eyes to cross, a condition that corrected itself after about three years.
Revelations gleaned from the research and from the newly named Glad Box led to more phone calls, more letters exchanged and an eventual plan for these long-lost blood relatives to reconnect and even to meet other family members living in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The official family odyssey began Friday, July 23 on the garage port at Wanda Jane Jones’ home in Orange, Tex. After introductions and hugs, the group, including relatives and in-laws, went inside the house where fascinating stories of long ago unfolded.
A few hours later, after lots of talk, picture taking and plans for the holiday season when Wanda might visit her niece and nephew in Oklahoma, the travelers headed on, bound for a Shreveport reunion with a stop-over in beautiful Natchitoches (pronounced Nack-i-tish), La.
The next day in Shreveport, we met several members of the Tingle family, including Grady who is Bill and Margaret’s only living uncle. Grady and his wife Regina provided more information about Millie and her mother Helen.
Millie was remembered as beautiful and much-loved, while Helen, who had married the first time at 14, was known as a brilliant woman and avid reader. We learned that both women were favorites among family members.
Three days’ worth of reconnecting and getting acquainted after more than 50 years of separation ended all too quickly on a warm Sunday morning with Huck, Sandy, Margaret and Bill standing over the grave of Helen Tingle Love in Pineville, La. After placing a bouquet of flowers at the headstone, Bill said a prayer of thanks. Then, Huck sang two verses of “Amazing Grace.”
“I once was lost but now am found” seemed more poignant than ever as this group of relatives parted company, determined to keep in better touch.
This meaningful and memorable family experience all happened, thanks to a few quick clicks of a mouse, leading to Internet sites like www.whitepages.com or www.ancestry.com. These sites provided just enough information for Huck to pick up the telephone and make some fruitful calls.
Stories like this one are not new to our immediate family. In fact, this is the third such discovery for us in the past ten years.
Having suffered tragedy and loss of both parents early in her life, my own mother, during the past decade, has connected with and met dozens of her family members from the Chicago area, thanks to similar research efforts. In her case, a telephone call opened one door, while a one-sentence posting under the Halter family name on http://genforum.genealogy.com/ opened the other.
These days, it seems that many longtime family mysteries are often easily solved. If our three personal experiences are any example of the outcome, I can happily state that initiating the search is well worth the effort.
One more moral to this story that I learned firsthand: don’t always be so quick to hang up if you think there’s a telemarketer at the other end. The unknown caller might actually have something to offer that can change your life.