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Happy trails to you, ’till we meet again…

I didn’t think it was going to bother me so much. I have known for months that this census would be bittersweet. Seeing people appear for the first time, seeing some appear for the last. I knew it would be the last census for both of my German grandparents and for both of my then-living great grandparents. I knew it would be the first census for some of my aunts and uncles and cousins.

And yet I guess there are just some things that you can know… and still never be prepared for. Like seeing someone you have loved your entire life show up on a census form… and knowing you can’t pick up the phone and call her about it.

1940 US Census, Midland County TX

The baby girl at the bottom of this census is my oldest first cousin.1 Born Michaela Bobette Staples in Midland, Texas, on 31 January 1940. And died 16 August 2011 at home in Kents Store, Virginia.2 There she is — not yet three months old — with her mother, my Aunt Cladyne, in the household of our grandparents, Clay and Opal Cottrell.

I can smile through my tears at the solid notations in the birthplace columns that every last member of that family was born in Texas. Bobbi was so proud of being a Texan of Texans of Texans of Texans — both our grandfather’s father and our grandmother’s father were born in Texas too.3

Here she is again, not yet two years old, with her mother.

Bobbi and Clady, c1942

This is just before Clady met J.C. Barrett, a young man in what was then still the Army Air Force, and married him, giving Bobbi the Barrett part of her name … and five younger siblings. But because Barrett, as he was called, was so often overseas in his military career, Bobbi basically grew up with the Cottrells.

Notice back in that census record… Bobbi was only 17 months younger than our Uncle Mike. Here they are, face to face, after the family had moved to Virginia. Bobbi and Mike were the best of friends all of her life.

Mike and Bobbi, c1952

Bobbi married in Virginia, once briefly in what she called a foolish mistake, the second time to Harold Kent Richardson, the love of her life. They had been married for more than 30 years when we lost Harold to lung cancer in 2002. Then Bobbi developed back problems and getting around started to be more and more difficult. But even that couldn’t keep that smile from her face, as shown in this photo from 2004.

Bobbi, 2004

To call Bobbi “special” just isn’t enough. She was funny. She was loud. She was opinionated. She was brash. She was glamorous. She was independent. She was proud. And she loved life and every last one of us in our very large extended family with a fierceness that words can’t begin to capture. There were times in our lives when, I’m sure, she would gleefully have wrung the neck of this much younger cousin. But there was never a time in my life when I wasn’t sure that Bobbi had my back against the rest of the world.

Bobbi knew she was losing her own battle with lung cancer weeks before her death in August of last year. True to form, she was determined to meet whatever happened on her own terms. Her funeral, at Mount Gilead Baptist Church in Virginia, has to be the only one I’ve ever attended where the recessional hymn was “Happy Trails”:

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin’ until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we’re together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you, ’till we meet again.

Happy trails, dear cousin. ’Till we meet again. In another census, perhaps. Or another life…


  1. 1940 U.S. census, Midland County, Texas, Midland City, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 165-3A, page (illegible)(B) (stamped), sheet 7(B), household 161, Bobbette Staples; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Apr 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 4105.
  2. Bobette Staples Barrett Richardson, obituary, Charlottesville (Virginia) Daily Progress, 18 Aug 2011; online at ( : accessed 6 Apr 2012).
  3. See Texas Board of Health, death certif. no. 13603, Martin Gilbert Cottrell, 26 Mar 1946; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin. See also Oklahoma State Board of Health, death certificate 3065 (1912), Jasper C. Robertson; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Oklahoma City.
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