It didn’t seem that long ago that the grave markers of this family of four in Mount Avon Cemetery were bestowed with American flags, bouquets of flowers, miniature plastic soccer balls, dolls and butterflies, and the grass around them had been trimmed and tidy. The colorful and playful decorations had drawn me to look closer. I remember being startled to read that Jacob Vaness Young was born the same month and year as I was, and that the entire family had died on the same day, August 22, 1999.
This spring it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen any decorations around the gravesite in recent years. When I walked closer, I saw the markers were overgrown with grass. That saddened me.
Who was Jacob Vaness Young?
Jacob was a Vietnam vet, like my husband. His wife, Leita, was eight years younger. Their daughter, Nicole Louise, was born in 1987, and Jacob Jr., in 1989. The director of Podetz Funeral Home told me they had been killed in a car accident. That’s all I know of them.
Jacob was 45, Leita was 37, Nicole, 12 and Jacob Jr., 10.
The tragic accident that took their lives happened three days after Nicole’s birthday. Maybe the family had been coming home from a trip to Cedar Point. In the back seat of the car, Jacob might have been playing a Game Boy. Maybe Nicole had a CD player and was listening to Britney Spears “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” Neither child had any idea what was about to hit them. I can only hope their death was swift and painless.
I often wondered if the children’s grandparents were the ones who had been leaving flowers and toys at their graves. I assume now they’re no longer able to tend the graves; maybe they’ve moved or passed away themselves. As someone who’s lost a child, I imagine their grief must have been consuming.
A new caretaker
This spring, with a shovel and brush in hand, I walked to Mount Avon to clean up the family’s markers, thinking of the many others who have left this world suddenly, unexpectedly, and much too soon. How sad it would be if they were forgotten.
Update August 22, 2016:
Since writing this post, I’ve been contacted by several members of Young’s family and they’ve shared some lovely memories with me. They are scattered throughout the US, as often happens with families, and appreciative that I have been tending to their loved one’s graves. Sometimes the internet is miraculous in the way it helps strangers connect. I’m pleased that the memory of “Van” and Leita Young and their two children are living in the hearts of their loved ones.