Ladies and gentlemen, a biting breeze blows as the sun sinks from sight on an overcast, wintry day. It is quiet and tranquil in the old Strange Cemetery near Fairview as red-yellow hues paint the western sky.

Of the few hundred lying in repose in the Strange Cemetery, more than 60 are Roushes. It may sound strange (pun somewhat intended), but there are more Roushes than Stranges buried in the Strange Cemetery. Life can change in an instant.

In the past, I have written about days and events of long ago that changed the lives of families forever, and not for better.

Two that come to mind are the summer day in 1888 when Marion Britton fatally shot John Brown, his brother-in-law, at the Parker House in Hillsboro; and the early autumn day in 1887 when young Wesley Kenneth Roush, on his first birthday, perished when he crawled into a fireplace at my
great-great-grandparents’ home.

While I “visited” Highland County in the year of our Lord 1899 this past December, I came across another day that has haunted me ever since – Dec. 17, 1899.

It was a Sunday, and the family of John “Willard” Roush and Sophia Fawley Roush had worshiped that day at church, then perhaps spent time with friends and family or went to town before returning home between 3 and 4 p.m. that afternoon.

Christmas was just more than a week away, and Willard, age 41, described as a prosperous farmer living near Fairview, and his wife, Sophia, age 33, were perchance gearing up for the season by buying Christmas presents for their children.

As the Roush family was settling in for the afternoon, tragedy struck.

When their 13-year-old daughter, Rella, entered the home, she discovered her 10-year-old brother, Fred, playing with their father’s shotgun.

In a joking manner, Fred reportedly pointed the gun at Rella, at the same time saying, “I’ll shoot you,” when the gun discharged. The Dec. 21, 1899 front-page newspaper article described the shooting in much greater detail than I’ll give in this offering, but Rella’s death was “instantaneous.”

The paper said it was the “old story of ‘didn’t know it was loaded’ and children handling firearms,” adding that the gun was “supposed to be empty at the time” and “owing to the extreme youth of the little boy and to the fact that it was a clear case of accident, a coroner’s inquest was not

Funeral services were held the next afternoon, and young Rella Roush, the girl who never grew up, was buried in the Strange Cemetery.

And 42,777 days later (or 117 years, one month and 12 days later, if you prefer), I’m standing alone in the Strange Cemetery to pay my condolences. Yes, if Rella Roush were still alive today, she’d be 130 years old.

So why does this day more than a century ago haunt me?

Is it because young Rella Roush never had a chance to grow up and live a full life through no fault of her own?

Pondering this, I think about the parents, Willard and Sophia, along with young Fred. From that day forward, probably not a day went by where they didn’t think about that Sunday afternoon. I can imagine the pain they carried for the rest of their days.

Willard passed away in 1937 at the age of 78; Sophia in 1945 at the age of 78; and Noah Frederick in 1947 at the age of 57. Rella’s little sister, Emma, who would have been 1 year old in December of 1899, died in 1996 at the age of 98.

They, along with other family members, are buried in the Strange Cemetery.

As I depart, I am comforted by the scripture from the book of John, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die…”

Steve Roush is a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press.