Columnist: Listening to the whispers of Mollie
Two months ago I wrote an article titled “The Unsinkable Mollie Sparks” about my great grandmother. A diminutive woman with a mighty resolve that resided in a small town on top of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee from 1876 to 1970.
My widowed great-grandmother was the most financially poor woman that I ever knew in my family. I found her will to survive enormous and heroic. I am in awe of the children she raised. Each one, from my grandmother, my Aunt Florida, Uncle Casto and the rest were just the finest, funniest, people I have ever known. All of them full of faith, values and joy. I loved them immensely.
At the beginning of the first story about the unsinkable Mollie I wanted to include her exact birthday. I couldn’t find it, so I decided I would sign up on Ancestry.com to see if by chance she was in a computer somewhere. Logically I knew I didn’t need the exact date, but something was pushing me.
Once I entered her info, her picture came on the screen. A tear formed in my eye, and suddenly Mollie was sitting right beside me. I wrote the story and felt her presence the entire time. However, it didn’t end there.
After I met my deadline for the paper, I went back to the computer to look at her photo again. Her face haunted me as if she were trying to tell me something. I learned how to navigate the Ancestry web site to send me further back into her life. I knew who her mother was, but didn’t know much about her father. Obviously, no one else did either. The family history just stopped with him.
It started to become an obsession to solve the mystery of my great-great-grandfather, James Robert Randolph. After over 100 hours traveling through time with Mollie in the back seat, and James in front pointing me in the right direction, we found the destination we were looking for.
Along the way I met family members I never knew. I had to travel outside of Ancestry to records you could barely read and blogs from people on similar journeys. I began to understand my own complicated heritage and the joy of navigating through each and every generation on this unchartered path.
The reason we hit a speed bump in the road was I found that James had a mother but no record of a father. His mother never married. Shocked, I kept thinking that couldn’t be right! Sadly, it was. He had an older brother as well, George Whitfield Randolph who had moved to Texas and changed his name. His mother finally married later in life, moved away and died in Arkansas.
I can’t imagine the hardship this caused James in the mid-1800s in a small town, but it could not have been easy. He stayed in Monterey, Tennessee, kept his name and held his head high.
James lived an indigent life, but left a legacy of richness. His courage was passed down through his children and grandchildren. Those that he bore with his wife, Nancy, gave more value to the lives that followed than all the money in the world.
Our road ended in Virginia. We found James’ family in plantations along the James River. The Randolphs there were very wealthy, very influential, educated and were an integral part of the establishment of colonial Virginia. That was where the heritage began in this country for James Robert Randolph.
James and Mollie would have loved to have known this, and they would have loved to have seen Virginia, but would it have changed them? No.
Mollie would have still been cooking cornbread in her wood-burning stove, hoeing in her garden and fussing at me for eating too many cherries off her tree.
After our travels through time, I started to gather all my notes and records, and hoped that I had given James his significance in history. I understood after uncovering his past why it was so important to do so.
The day I found the last piece of the puzzle to his heritage, I noticed the date in the right corner of my computer screen. It was Feb. 3, James’ 160th birthday.
Coincidence? No, I don’t think so. I don’t begin to understand the mysteries of life and death, but I do know that folks all the time hear whispers of those that have passed through this life.
Some try to explain those quiet voices away and they honestly believe that they are being smart and logical to do so. My answer to that is that I believe in a God that can do just about any old thing He wants to do. I will acquiesce to His brilliance.
I know for a fact that the whispers of Mollie led me to so many discoveries that I never knew before and led us to put a link back in a long chain.
People never really die, do they? They live on in the heart of all those that loved them. The chain never breaks, the tie is always bound, and if you listen with faith, you can still hear them whispering.