*This is the final of four writings exploring a cross-country trek spanning three generations. My grandfather, father, and I drove from Madison, Wisconsin to Dallas, Texas. It was a journey connecting old with new memories. The time reclaimed and recorded the history of our humanity…
Outside of the Best Western Markita Inn in Durant, Oklahoma stray dogs friendly yet suspiciously begged for food. It had been a long time since my grandfather Tom Balisle had reconnected with his roots in this part of the country. Life, commitments, and time had gotten in the way.
With exhaustive research, I discovered that distant relatives were buried at the Denison cemetery in Idabel, Oklahoma. My grandfather declared the request to be buried near his mother Nora Mae Balisle and father David Preston Balisle. City Hall had no plot identification map and calls to the cemetery were unanswered. We were determined to find them.
By the age of eleven, both of Nora Mae Balisle’s parents had died. She went to live with an Aunt and became a housemaid nanny to the family. Nora was Choctaw and didn’t talk about it. Her life changed meeting David Preston Balisle Sr. and they had six children. My grandfather’s father (Sr.) fought in World War I as a Master Sergeant. He was in charge of mules that transported artillery between battles and later became Wood Superintendent for Dierks Lumber and Coal Company (Choctaw Lumber Company). His son David Preston Balisle Jr. fought in World War II and his other son John Balisle died at age twelve trying to save another boy’s life.
Our final stop would be 87 miles to visit my grandfather’s sister Margaret in Garland, Texas. It had been over sixty years since Tom Balisle had seen her. Both discussed family history, relationships, and dynamics. Time and absence of connection left voids that needed to be filled. However, all uneasiness seemed to fade with each passing minute. The meeting was reminiscent of a shared time and childhood.
Part of the sibling conversation included the “real” spelling of Balisle is Balile. A ground marker in the Denison cemetery displayed “D.P Balile” at the bottom of our family’s headstone. When asking my grandfather, he said that his father said the “s” was a clerical mistake and the family decided to keep it. In addition, Balisle Sr. was part Native American but life and circumstances prevented connection. Tom Balisle: “They were sloppy in those days with record keeping.”
Our trip from Madison to Dallas was like cooking from scratch. There was no correct destination or map. We found our way through old and new memories. Love and patience prevailed. We met relatives for the first time and made discoveries leading to more questions. Identity and character are more than just a name- it is who we are…