Ten A.M. After some nervous indecision, I’d parked in the driveway of a nearby farmhouse and was hustling up the road toward a tiny cemetery. The odor of cow dung was large. The crack of thunder at the horizon was larger. I arrived in Kokomo three days after catastrophic F3 tornadoes had ripped through, and I was not anxious to get caught out in the new storms racing across central Indiana. But I’d come 600 miles for this, and I wasn’t leaving before I got what I came for.
With his wife dead and nothing to hold them in Onslow County, North Carolina, James Henderson gathered up his children and pushed 60 miles northwest to Sampson County. There, James married Eliza Armwood and, about 1852, their first child was born. It does not take a great leap of imagination to picture my great-great-great-grandfather Lewis, oldest of James’ first bunch, cradling his baby sister Anna Jane in his arms or hoisting her to his shoulders in the years before his own children were born. Nor is it hard to conjecture his sense of loss when Anna left with her new husband Montraville Simmons to join his family in impossibly faraway Canada. She was the only one of James’ children to leave North Carolina, and she did so in a big way. The Simmonses eventually quit Ontario for Indiana, but, practically speaking, the Midwest was no closer to home. It’s not clear when Anna last saw any of her people, but it’s a sure bet that none ever visited Cass County, and not a one has ever visited her grave.
Thus, I found myself navigating the grid of backroads between Logansport and Kokomo, one eye on the western sky as bands of rain lashed my windshield. Properly speaking, I was not headed to Anna’s actual grave, for it is unmarked. But to stand in Bassett cemetery would be close enough.