Being one of the younger Kilgore first cousins, I have always been enamored with the lore that surrounded my Daddy’s older brother, Johnie Thomas Kilgore. He must have been a gracious and kind individual, for through the years I have only heard his name spoken with love, reverence and respect. Dying at age 25, Uncle Johnie has always stayed young in our memory of him. In contrast, Johnie’s siblings lived to experience long, full and productive lives--many living into their 90s. We, the Kilgore cousins, are part of that heritage.
When I was born in December of the following year, I received that distinction. The spelling of my first name changed by the time I began first grade to “Johnnie,” and by age 12 to “Johnny.” But no matter how my name was spelled, I am the namesake of a person I never knew, but always heard of through Granny Kilgore, my parents, and the rest of the family.
During the 2012 Kilgore Cousins Reunion, under the old oak trees at Granny Kilgore’s place, we met for the evening around the campfire to have a wiener roast, to fellowship, and to tell stories. The last story told that evening was by our cousin, Ronald J. McKeever. He told of Uncle Johnie’s death and shared some details I have never heard before. I asked Ron to write down what he shared that night for this blog post. Uncle Johnie is an “unknown soldier” to many in our family. He is certainly part of the mystique found in our family history.
This is the story Ron told us, and has now written for us.
Our uncle Johnie died in 1939 as a result of a motorcycle accident in Shelby County. I faintly remember him giving us sticks of gum when he would come home to visit. He was employed at Bayliss Machine and Welding in Birmingham and usually rode the bus every other week to visit with his parents, our Grandpa and Granny Kilgore. He was with a man and his girlfriend, on the motor, when it crashed. He spent a couple of weeks in the hospital, in and out of a coma, until he passed.
During the early 60's, I had a deacon who came from the Helena area where the accident occurred and I mentioned it to him. He remembered visiting the wreck area as a 12 year old to see what happened. He carried me to the place, which has since been paved. It was a dirt road and the accident happened on a curve. I mentioned this to Mom (Lois Kilgore McKeever) about visiting the place and she shared some other information with me. It seems that Johnie was the only one hurt in the wreck. During the time in the hospital, he would moan, “They took my money”. Strangely, his wallet was never found. Mom remembered some of the family who visited him mentioning that he said, “They hit me”. More than 70 years ago, there would not have been the forensic testing to determine if this was a crime since there were two witnesses who said that it was a wreck. Both walked away...Johnie died. No way to prove it, but it seems to have been the thought that Johnie did not die from the accident. Only God knows for sure.
I never visit Johnie's grave but that I wonder if there were other circumstances surrounding his death. I know this much. He was much loved by his family, especially by the girls since he was their protector...drove the school bus...and loved his mom and dad. So sad...
I thank Ron for sharing this story with us at the reunion and now on the Kilgore Cousins blog. Uncle Johnie’s grave at Bennett Cemetery is next to those of John W. and Sarah Kilgore, our grandparents. As a young child, I was always fascinated with Uncle Johnie’s tombstone. It was different from all the others in the cemetery. There is a picture of Uncle Johnie imprinted on a white porcelain oval attached in the middle of his headstone. Anyone walking by can see how Uncle Johnie looked—always young and handsome. He is immortalized as such to all of us who never knew him. His life will live on in our memory and now in this story.
At the bottom of Uncle Johnie's head gravestone are the words, "another link is broken in our beloved band...another chain is forming in a better land..."
As of this writing that chain is complete because Johnie's parents and all his brothers and sisters now reside in that heavenly land. For that we rejoice!
I sign off now as Johnny Warren Kilgore, named after my uncle Johnie and my Father, Cecil Warren Kilgore who joined that chain this past April 2012. What a legacy these two left as I bear the proud name of KILGORE.
Johnny Kilgore, eldest son of Cecil Kilgore