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Consider this quote from Abe Lincoln

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."



     It seems like I’m always getting myself into interesting situations. Sometimes I wonder about the life lessons that I’m being presented with and if I’m taking the right path, but then there are times when I know doing the right thing isn’t even debatable.

     I’m guessing there isn’t anyone reading this that will be familiar with the name Arvilla Harmon. I know I certainly wasn’t until about ten years ago. In fact it is a name that presented itself to me and then wandered around in the back recesses of my mind for years only to bring itself to the forefront once again.

     There are few people I genuinely miss not having around. Oh sure, maybe they weren’t perfect people but not only did they have a huge impact on who I became, but also because I just miss talking to them. Uncle Robert was one of those people. Oh sure, you and I both know he could be stubborn; a family trait that somehow seems to flow through each one of us Weesners a little more than we care to admit. But when it came to interesting stories and useful historic tidbits there wasn’t anyone who could compare. I used to go up and sit at the drug store with him from time to time just to let him ramble on, picking out bits and pieces of information that I’ve since stored in my own memory bank.

     One afternoon he called me all excited, and for those of you who knew him you’ll be able to put the excited tone he used with this story. It seems someone had brought him a headstone they had found along side the road, or in a basement or back yard. They asked him to find out where it belonged thinking it had come out of the cemetery in Dexter. He put me on the case and I struggled with my blinders on looking through records of cemeteries in the area with no luck. So the old marble stone was stored away in his garage and pretty much forgotten until early this spring when my cousin June called. She asked if I knew that her Dad had a tombstone in the garage and all the memories I had of it came flooding back to me. I promised to take it off her hands and find out where it belonged.

     When people stop by my house they expect to see a few treasures here and there, and in the winter time the back lot here looks like a camper dealership, but there were more than a few who were surprised finding a headstone resting against the wash house when they pulled in. The only information I had was the name Arvilla E. Harmon, daughter of C.E and W.N. Harmon and from the dates I knew she had passed away in 1870 at the age of 2 years, 9 months and 11 days. After attempting some research on my own I posted the information that I had on the Dallas County Genweb’s message board and within minutes I had the answer.

     Little Arvilla was buried along side her 5 siblings in a little cemetery called Sawyer just outside of La Porte City, Iowa. La Porte City? That is a ways from Dexter I thought, but made plans to get the stone back in its rightful place. Perhaps the only thing harder than finding out where the stone belonged was the number of phone calls it took to track down the cemetery caretaker and township trustee. I told him the story and asked if it would be ok for him to meet me there and show me the grave.

     So on a sunny Sunday morning I set out with a good friend who also loves history and road trips with little Arvilla’s tombstone in the back of the car. As we left my driveway a bald eagle flew close to the house and we both marveled at being able to see one so close.

     The cemetery itself sits just a mile out of La Porte City at the intersections of two county blacktop roads on the knob of a small hill. Although rarely used it is a neat and clean little spot but according to the trustee had been neglected by everyone but vandals over the years. The last few years there has been an effort to restore that little cemetery and we were told that it had become quite common for stones to disappear and reappear years later here. He took us out to show us the row of graves of the children, which at one time had been located under a giant cedar tree. In the next row over cousins of Arvilla laid in peaceful slumber, a mother and her children, all victims of a typhoid epidemic that had spread through the community a number of times.

     No one knows what happened to C.E. and W.N. Harmon and the cemetery records had long since been lost but after careful probing and a little digging we found the base of the headstone in the ground, which matched exactly the rest of the stone for Arvilla. We cemented the stone back into the ground and stood there for a moment saying our own little prayer as we watched another bald eagle make gentle swoops over the timber nearby.

     It was a long drive home that day and I thought about that little girl and her family. How hard those times must have been on the open Iowa prairie 140 years ago. I thought about the people who loved her, and those who had faded into memories thus cutting the tie that kept her memory alive. I wondered what she looked like, how the family grieved her loss, and what must have transpired that sent the parents of these little souls away to some place still unknown. A few people who I have told the story of little Arvilla and her wandering headstone have asked me why I took the time and money to return that stone. Certainly with all who remember her now long gone it would have been just as easy to toss the stone into a mud hole someplace and never think of it again.

     But those of you who know me, know that answer would have never rested well with me. Oh sure, maybe no one will ever notice that stone sitting amongst the ones for her siblings, and maybe it won’t ever get visited at memorial day, will never see a flower laid upon it in honor of her birthday. I somehow feel though we restored not only that headstone that day, but a little piece of ourselves. Certainly in 150 years I shall be gone from this earth and the people who remember me will be few, but if it was a member of my family, or that of one of my friends I would hope that some good Samaritan would do the same thing that my friend and I did that day. Looking beyond what would have been the easy way out, and doing the right thing. And in a way remembering that little girl, who had long faded into history.

See you next week…Remember, we’re all in this together.