Open Spaces, A Song From A Bend in the Straight and Narrow



John O’Steen

My grandfather, John N. O’Steen, was born on June 2, 1886. The family narrative had always been that he was born a very tiny baby, so small that his grandmother, who raised him, put him in her apron pocket while she hoed weeds in the garden.  There were many questions left unanswered: Why was he so small? Where were his parents? Why did his grandmother raise him?

But we never had any answers until 2010 when my husband and I were wandering in the New Hope Primitive Baptist graveyard in La Crosse, FL.  I rounded the corner of a large headstone and began reading, finally realizing some of the mystery was solved.


The rubbing I did of the gravestone so that I could take the discovery home with me.

My great grandfather’s headstone.

The headstone (pictured) read Johnny D. O’Steen, July 16, 1864 – June 6, 1886. Emma R. Cone O’Steen, June 20, 1869 – June 9, 1886.

Chills ran down my spine. These were my great grandparents and they had died within days of each other, with Emma dying a week after her baby was born, my grandfather.

There was also a grave next to theirs, a six year-old girl named Oneida O’Steen. I’m not sure if she was a daughter, which would have made Emma very young when she was born. I know there were yellow fever and influenza epidemics during that period but I don’t know which disease took this small family.

Because of this finding I wrote a section in the book of an influenza epidemic but more important than adding to the writing, a mystery was solved.


Sarah Helen Hilton O’Steen

The photos above are of Sarah A. Younger’s grandmother, Granny O’Steen.  Granny O’Steen’s name was Sarah Helen Hilton O’Steen but she was called Nellie.  She was born in 1888.  She lived until she was 86.  Granny O’Steen told many stories of the family which are the inspiration for the book.