Death of a Teenager : Houston, You Have No More Problems
In November, my family suffered a shocking loss. My cousin, Houston St. John, died at 17 years old. Houston’s Dad and my Mom are 2 of 13 siblings born to Rev. E.C. and Lovell St. John. With such a large extended family, we’ve seen our share of drama, divorce, and distance but not much death…especially this young.
As the oldest grandchild, I honestly didn’t spend much time with Houston as he was 21 years younger than me and lived half a country away. However, I do have a few strong memories to share:
Cleveland, Tennessee – It was Christmas time in 1999 or 2000 and Houston was 3 or 4 years old. We were at our Grandmother’s house and Houston had recently discovered the Christian singer Carman. His parents (and, I assume, very patient brother) had endured the whole trip from Kansas to Tennessee watching a ‘live’ concert movie . Houston spent most of the holiday running between rooms expertly mimicking Carman’s moves. At the time, it was good for laughs but we had no idea that it was a precursor to…
Clermont-Ferrand, France – It was my turn to have a small child in the house. Houston had moved from Carmen to Elvis and had recently staged a show at his church where he performed songs and danced. My older son watched that movie over and over from around age 2 to age 5, impressed with a performer that he didn’t know was a relative.
Cleveland, Tennessee – In June of 2011, we came together as a family to celebrate the life of our matriarch, Lovell St. John. Houston and I hadn’t seen each other many times since the ‘Carmen Christmas’ but we enjoyed catching up and sharing our high school choral experiences (his a little more recent than mine). At Lovell’s funeral, we sang What a Lovely Name which, for reasons only understood by preacher’s kids who grew up moving between Virginia and Kentucky understand, is the ‘official’ St. John song. Houston was an excellent singer but he was a little frustrated because he didn’t know all of the words. I assured him that he needed to learn it as we would be singing it at many future family gatherings. How little did I know…
Greenville, South Carolina – On the evening of November 5 my wife was getting one last run in before I left for 10 days and I was getting dinner on the table for our kids. My Mom called with the news that Houston had died that afternoon in a car accident. What a shock. It took a few minutes for me to process it and then tell my sons. It was pretty hard for them to grasp…much as it was for me when my Great Grandfather and Great Uncle died when I was near their age. Several days after the event, I was still asking myself, “Is he really dead?”
Houston had a relatively short life, but a big impact. Over 1300 people attended his memorial service and there are over 10,000 hits on his memorial page. 2014 will be a year of difficult ‘firsts’ for Houston’s family but I think everyone who knew him can take comfort in both the great memories he left and the “huge family reunion with the Master” that we believe Houston will one day be attending.