People We Meet

A warm Tennessee welcome….

After booking a combined rail and cruise package which include a 2 day stay in Memphis I was really excited as a visit to Graceland had been on my bucket list for about as long as I can remember, especially because (as I have mentioned in a previous blog) my Dad and Elvis Presley shared an identical birthday: 8th January 1935. Dad would often comment that they were twins separated at birth “Elvis got the money and I got the good looks” he would say!

Truth is as most people know Elvis WAS a twin but tragically his twin brother Jesse died at birth and this was apparently something which haunted Elvis his entire life.

By a strange twist of fate it was the death of 2 other unrelated single twins which led to me meeting and making another very special friend in Tennessee: Shane Robinson.

Shane works for the very well known and reputable Funeral Home in Jackson, Tennessee ‘George A. Smith & Sons‘ he had also completed a Funeral Celebrancy Training Course with the In-Sight Institute in Oklahoma where I had completed some of my own training back in 2007.

However it was around 2 yrs ago when as part of my own celebrancy work I was asked to conduct the funeral of an identical twin girl who had died just a few days after her birth whilst her twin sister had survived. I had discussed this forthcoming Funeral with some apprehension on a confidential celebrants forum with some of my American colleagues due to the complex & complicated emotions being felt by the twins parents. Shane added a comment to the thread telling me that he was also a lone twin having lost his identical sibling Wayne at birth too. He shared some of his story with me about growing up and living as a sole twin and also gave me details of a surviving twins support group which I was able to pass on to the bereaved parents I was working with, in the hope that this may be of some comfort and help to their surviving baby girl as she grew and also help them through the maze of mixed emotions they were naturally experiencing themselves.

I too have lost an older brother whom I never got to meet, so whilst I am not a lone twin, I still feel and understand that deep sense of loss and what it is like living without the sibling you long for.

Shortly afterwards Shane & I connected on Facebook and a year or so later when I knew we were going to be visiting Memphis I messaged him to see if he would like to meet up, I was grateful that he not only accepted the offer but having already seen Cameron’s enthusiasm for trains on my Facebook page he told me all about the Casey Jones Museum close to his home in Jackson, TN and thought that Cam may like to see it.

Now I admit that whilst I had heard of Casey Jones, I didn’t really know the full story of their local legend. Casey Jones was a steam engine driver who was unable to stop his passenger train from crashing into a broken down freight train ahead of them, but he died a hero that day by saving the lives of all of those on board through his actions. He told his fireman to jump from the footplate but Casey stayed on it himself in order to continue to slow the engine as much as possible right up to the very last second. All lives except his own were saved that day due to his brave action.

Well Cameron was just hooked on this story, he researched and watched dozens & dozens of youtube videos, even making one himself based on the song released by Johnny Cash (who had family & band members from Jackson). Trust me, what Cameron doesn’t now know about Casey Jones isn’t worth knowing!!!! Over the last 7 months his excitement has just grown and grown, as has his love of Johnny Cash music!! He talked of nothing else other than Shane and Casey Jones – this day was going to be the highlight of his world tour. He told everyone and anyone he met, old or young and even though he was frequently greeted with blank stares and “who are they?” type of comments, this did not diminish his enthusiasm.

So finally the day came and I am not quite sure who was more excited, Cam or Shane??! I was excited too, equally caught up in the enthusiasm of these two finally meeting after such a build up over so many months.

I hadn’t realised that Memphis was quite as far from Jackson as it was, but bless his kind heart Shane drove over 80 miles to come over and pick us up, another 80 miles on the return to Jackson and the same again in the evening. There are truly no words to express my gratitude to him for doing that and for giving Cameron (and myself) such a memorable day,

Cameron just LOVED his visit to the Casey Jones Museum, he would have stayed there all day given the chance. When we did finally drag him away and across the road for lunch – as if the day wasn’t magical enough already… who should make a surprise appearance??? SANTA CLAUS !

After a wonderful lunch Shane drove us over to the Funeral Home where he worked, and I have to say I was just blown away, it was the biggest and most spectacular Funeral Home I have ever seen in my life and totally different to anything that we have here in the U,K.

Shane introduced me to three of his colleagues Travis Hunt, Josh Englert and Heath Williams all of whom welcomed me with much warmth and hospitality. This was my highlight of the day and I could have stayed all day looking around, talking with them and asking questions. In fact I was having to resist the urge to get down on my knees and beg them for a job!!!! Now I know not many people would list a visit to a funeral home as one of their holiday highlights, but hey this is my profession and a job which I care passionately about, so being the eternal student with a huge thirst for knowledge, I soak up experiences such as these like a sponge.

Shane, Cameron & myself at the George A Smith & Sons Funeral Home in Jackson, Tennessee

Regrettably my enthusiasm for visiting the funeral home wasn’t shared by my 7 yr old son who had already decided it was going to be ‘boring’ before we even stepped foot in the door – hence Shane had promised him we wouldn’t be more than 5 minutes! We were alas a little more than that but sadly it was a fleeting and an all too short a visit.

We did however manage to find a happy medium between Trains and Funerals when Shane then took us to see Casey Jones’ Grave (his funeral home had cared for Casey & conducted his burial back in 1900) and Cameron was a lot more enthusiastic about this!

Above & Below: Cameron (& Shane) at the grave of Casey Jones

We went on to visit other well known graves and another smaller railway museum, but alas the day had to draw to a close.

It was a day that none of us wanted to end, but each had committed memories to minds and hearts. One day in the not too distance future we shall return to Tennessee to spend more time with our new found friends, but in the meantime we have most definitely left a little piece of our hearts there.

THANK YOU Shane and all those people we met who helped to make our short stay in Tennessee truly unforgettable.

This is a little video which we made to remember that special day: We’re going to Jackson

“Good friends are hard to find and impossible to forget”

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