As human beings, we want to be remembered when we are gone. We want to know that someone, somewhere will remember us. We cannot all be a Shakespeare or an Einstein, the world remembers those that left behind great legacies that cannot be surpassed. We settle for our friends and family remembering us and hopefully in a good way, for Death will visit us all.
This blog begins in a cemetery. A particular cemetery in Houston, Texas, The Houston National Cemetery, to be exact. My husband, Richard Kean, is a bagpiper and he plays his pipes all over the state of Texas and beyond. We’d gone out to the Veteran’s National Cemetery in Houston because he was going to play at a funeral there. We’d been there dozens of times before and I always had the intention of visiting my uncle’s grave but I never did, until a few months ago.
I looked for the location of his grave at the kiosk at the front and after Richard was finished playing for the funeral he was at, we went to look for Uncle Bill. It took me awhile, his grave was only marked by a footstone, no headstone. I found him but I’d forgotten to bring flowers or anything! I looked around for a stone to place on his grave but that cemetery is so well managed, not even a pebble could be found. I looked in the van, maybe I had left a rock in it, but I hadn’t. I promised myself to bring flowers the next time.
His name was Billy Gene Craker. He was born in 1928, the half-brother of my Grandfather. I don’t know much about his life. According to one of his nieces, he would come and go and no one ever really knew where he was, he was cursed by the family alcoholism. He did serve in the Navy during World War II though. My grandma always made a point of keeping up with her ex-in-laws though and Billy was no different from the others. My mother, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with any of her father’s people. Billy Gene moved to Houston sometime in the 70’s or 80’s and lived not far from my grandmother. He became a real-estate agent, got married and had a step-daughter. I remember him coming over to our house a few times, the memories are blurry though. That I met him, that was my memory of Uncle Bill, until I got a phone call in 1996, from a woman that knew Bill to tell me that he’d died and she was looking for my grandma.
Grandma was the only Craker in the city and she couldn’t find her phone number. Why? Because grandma’s phone number was under my dad’s name. She and my aunt lived alone together and they all felt it was safer that way. I do not have a clue as to how this lady found me. My name definitely wasn’t Craker and this was 1996 before we could find any information we wanted with a quick click of a button. I lived in a different county too. But she did find me. She told me that she needed to get ahold of grandma to find Bill’s nearest relative. I called grandma and she called the lady and found out the tragic story of Bill’s end.
Bill had been murdered. He was found in his apartment, with a screwdriver driven through his skull. My dad had said that he’d seen Bill selling newspapers on the street months before. I don’t remember if he did stop and talk to him. Something had happened, who knows what? The fact was that he was dead and there was no one to claim him. When things were sorted out, there was a funeral at the National Cemetery. I met his ex-wife, step-daughter and the same friend that had called to find grandma, at the funeral. I was the only blood-relative there. His coffin was basically a cardboard box. It was so terribly sad. The story was written up in the local paper of his hometown, Monett, Missouri but I cannot find my copy and it isn’t online. If I ever come across it, I will include it in this blog.
Richard and I were at the cemetery again a few weeks ago. I brought flowers this time and I left them between his grave and the grave next to his because no one leaves flowers out in what is basically the pauper’s field section of the cemetery. I remember Billie Gene Craker, I am perhaps the youngest person that does. His life was hard and his death tragic but he deserved flowers at least.