Darling We Miss Thee

John Lester Kelley, Fincham Cemetery, Randolph County, WV

Addie Fincham, Greg’s paternal great aunt, was born at the turn of the 20th century deep in the West Virginia hills, near a sleepy little bend in the road called Adolph in Randolph County.  Her father, John W. Fincham, owned a modest farm in the bottom land along the clear, cold Middle Fork River. On this farm, which Greg knows well from his childhood, Addie lived and played for a short time with her seven brothers and sisters.

Childhood was cut short when Addie lost her mother Lena before she had even turned seven years old. It was a hardscrabble life in this part of Appalachia, and as a very young woman Addie had to work in other people’s homes for room, board, and some meager wages. She would sometimes earn money as a seamstress, making dresses and other items of clothing for the families of the poor farmers, miners, and lumberjacks that lived in the area. Four months after her nineteenth birthday in 1921, she married Adnigh David Kelly from the nearby town of Mabie. Adnigh was a coal miner for A. Spates Brady Mines.

After they were married Addie and her husband moved north from Randolph County to the little town of Century in Barbour County so that Adnigh could begin work for the Century Coal Company. There, on August 1, 1923, Addie’s first child, John Lester, was born. “Lester,” as he was affectionately called by the family, was a treasured addition. Today’s new parents, posting endless photos of their first babies on Facebook, chronicling every cute smile and every new milestone reached, certainly are no more joyous in their firstborns than Addie and Adnigh were.

In a devastating loss six months later, precious Lester died from influenza. His still little body was carried from Century by plodding horse cart to the train station at Ellamore and then put on a lumber train to be delivered to the quiet, pastoral Fincham Chapel Cemetery adjacent to John W.’s farm. An old railroad line, owned by the Moore-Keppel Lumber Company, used to run along the Middle Fork down to near Adolph. The Chapel cemetery, nestled between the wooded hills on a small slope, holds many of Addie’s ancestors and family.

If you visit the cemetery, hidden along the narrow road between Mill Creek and Adolph, you can find Lester’s poignant tombstone: a lamb reposing on a decorative headstone. The time worn inscription reads:

John Lester

Son of A. D. & Addie Kelley

Aug. 1, 1923

Feb. 1, 1924

At the bottom of the tombstone are the heartbreaking last words of Addie and Adnigh to their dead son:

Darling We Miss Thee

Like her mother and her first child, Addie herself died young. She succumbed in her early thirties to stomach cancer while pregnant with her sixth child. She too is buried in Fincham Chapel Cemetery. Greg’s grandparents, Cora (Fincham) and Jesse Shreve, who lived across the creek from John Fincham’s farm, took the surviving Kelley children into their home for a time and cared for them, even though they were raising eight children of their own. Adnigh David later moved into his father-in-law John’s home with his large family. There Addie’s unmarried sister, Lorena (“Aunt Lixie”), helped care for the children.

Some years after Addie’s death, Cora and Jesse Shreve’s children (Greg’s dad and his siblings) were playing one day at their grandfather John Fincham’s house. In the living room of that home was an old chest of drawers near the door to the back porch. The Shreve boys (Dick, Charlie, Paul, Montgomery, and later, Neal) knew that Lucky Strikes “Greens,” a brand of cigarette popular in the 1930’s and early 1940’s, were kept in that drawer, and they decided to try to pilfer a cigarette. (Their mother Cora frowned on smoking, and her children never, even as adults, smoked in her presence!)

In the drawer next to the cigarettes, the boys found a dried up, shriveled orange.  Their sister Arlene, who had accompanied them on this adolescent foray, picked it up reverently, knowing what it signified. That orange had been their small cousin Lester’s favorite toy. He had played with the orange as any modern infant might play with a small ball or little stuffed animal. When Lester died, his parents couldn’t bear to part with it, and it was kept by the family for years, eventually finding a final resting place in that chest of drawers. The orange, dried and shriveled to half of its former size, remained as a tangible and emotionally charged connection to Addie and Adnigh’s departed son.

As we grow older and begin to lose grandparents, parents, siblings, and friends many of us also accumulate physical reminders of people we have loved but who are no longer with us. Many of us have inherited Grandmother’s dishes, Grandfather’s fishing pole, Mom’s crystal, or Dad’s uniform. We have houses where this piece of furniture has come from Uncle and that knick-knack from Aunt. However, sometimes small, ostensibly insignificant items like Lester’s orange, although outwardly trivial and mundane, are nevertheless especially meaningful. Their value as mementos of our beloved dead derives from something beyond their intrinsic value, great age, or rarity. Their value derives from the emotion we, sometimes inexplicably, invest in them.

For Joan it is a little marble she keeps in her bed stand drawer. She found it among her dad’s things after he died. Looking at it, she remembered how he once told her that he loved playing marbles as a child. Into that small, round object, even smaller than Lester’s orange, she transferred a lifetime’s accumulation of emotion.

We know, of course, these treasured mementos can never replace the person that we love and miss. But when we slide open our drawer and see and touch our own “Lester’s orange,” we smile, perhaps shed a small tear, and then whisper under our breath a tender message to our loved one, “darling we miss thee.”

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6 comments

  1. Thank you so much for this touching post. We just finished moving items into a new Curio cabinet and after reading about “Lester’s orange” I have a better handle on the emotions that have been bubbling up.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Allan. Writing this post helped me better understand, too, why I have been keeping my dad’s marble in the bedside drawer all these years – Joan

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  2. Hello my name is Marcy Fincham. My husband is John Goldie Fincham, son to Andrew W. Fincham. His grandparents were John & Gay Fincham. We have been the caretakers of that little cemetery for more than 10 years now. I love when I stumble across stories such as this. Pieces of history, that help me to learn more about the people who chose to make that little cemetery their place of rest. We love that peaceful little haven, and we love taking care of it. Thank you for sharing this post. Feel free to visit my sight also. https://m.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.615860111791145.1073741832.440085419368616&type=1#!/The.Finchs.Nest/photos/a.615860111791145.1073741832.440085419368616/616282478415575/?type=1&source=43.

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    1. Marcy,
      We have visited the Fincham Chapel Cemetery many times over the years. We, too, love this peaceful resting place nestled in the hills of West Virginia — Greg’s grandparents, Jesse and Cora Fincham Shreve, are buried there. We appreciate all the hard work you and your husband have done to care for it. Thanks, too, for sharing your Fincham Cemetery Facebook page and posting all the photos of the gravestones. – Joan

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      1. Joan & Greg, perhaps some day when you come to visit the cemetery, you’ll happen upon John & me, and we’ll be lucky enough to get to meet you. I would love that! In any case keep up the good works you do with the stories you share. Take care and God bless you both.

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  3. Hi. What a beautiful story!, but most important, what wonderful, precious memories of days gone by… I just wanted you to know that I sit in that little Fincham Chapel every Sunday, just as my siblings & I did when we were children. We opened it back up & we have about 15 faithful members- sometimes more, on Sunday mornings. Our Pastor, Richard Haney, is a close descendant of the Finchams ( his mother was a Fincham from the John Fincham famuly as well. My parents were Shirley & Annie (Taylor) Fincham & my grandfather was Arthur & Edith Fincham & my great grandfather was Albert Fincham. My great-great grandfather was John Fincham. All of which Are buried there at the Fincham Chapel. I just wanted you to know that I have seen the grave saying “Darling we miss the”, many times, & have often wondered about it. Thank you soo much for sharing your sweet memories with me 🙂 & please know that we would LOVE to have you visit us one Sunday morning at our chapel. Sunday school @ 10:00am & service @
    11:00. God Bless & once again, Thank You!

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