A Double 25th Anniversary
Two women have been unimaginably connected for the last twenty-five years. At first, it might be easy to confuse them. One is named Aline and the other is named Alene. But Aline Skelley’s and Alene Davidson’s lives are intertwined in such a way you might think you are watching one of those movies going forward and backward in time that eventualy reveals completely unrelated stories which end up converging in the last scene.
They are both from a region in Tennessee, called the Cumberland Plateau, a mainly rural, small-town group of counties where everyone knows each other, people sit out on front porches drinking iced tea, and you see all your neighbors at church on Sunday. But, in 1993, Aline’s and Alene’s families had not yet met.
Aline Skelley, 36, was married with two children, ages 12 and 14. She was working as a medical transcriptionist for two local family practices. Besides working and taking care of her children, Aline and her husband, Norris, had a beautiful, large vegetable garden they tended at their Putnam County home. Life was busy and sometimes crazy for a working mother of two, but it was peaceful.
Aline’s younger brother, 23-year old Chris, was living one county away in Jamestown, located in Fentress County. But he was employed nearby at a factory in Monterey in Putnam County. He had been married on July 4, 1992, just over a year before. He worked hard – six days a week on the late shift – while buidling a life with his new wife, Kim.
Alene Davidson, a mother of seven, living in neighboring Overton County, Tennessee, was at a very exciting point in life. Her 25-year old daughter, Michelle, was getting married on August 14, 1993. She and Michelle, or “Sis” as everyone called her, were very close. Alene couldn’t be happier for her daughter. Michelle was very much in love with fiance, Doug Brooks, and they were already making plans to buy a house in Putnam County where Doug worked and thinking about children in the future. (Michelle had confessed to Alene that she hoped to have a dark-haired baby girl within a year!)
On the morning of August 14, Michelle got up to start her bridal preparations with mom by her side. Chris, who had worked until midnight, was sleeping in. Michelle and Doug said their vows to each other in a beautiful early afternoon wedding at Obey River Park on Dale Hollow Lake in Pickett County. While Michelle and Doug were being married, Chris was having a normal day. He got up, got on his motorcycle to enjoy the afternoon sunshine, and went for a haircut across town.
Michelle’s uncle, Junebug, was in attendance at the wedding. But during the reception, he was drunk and embarrassing the new bride. He didn’t live far from the lake, so he was asked to just leave and go home.
Around 3pm, the bride and groom were changing clothes as the reception was winding down. About an hour away in Fentress County, Chris was heading home from his haircut. He was just 1/4 mile away from his house. when a repeat offender plowed through an intersection and struck him before hitting two additional vehicles. Chris was thrown from the bike. He was rushed to the hospital and then airlifted to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, about an hour’s drive away.
By now, Michelle and Doug were saying their goodbyes and getting in the car for the drive to Chattanooga where they would spend their honeymoon. Little did they know, Michelle’s uncle, Junebug, had not gone home. He had headed into town for more alcohol instead. The honeymooners never made it out of the county. Junebug hit them head-on. The couple was rushed to the hospital. Michelle was seriously injured and had lost a lot of blood. They called for an emergency helicopter to transport her to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, but the chopper had not returned from taking Chris to Knoxville. Michelle would have to wait.
Chris didn’t live long enough to make it to Knoxville. He died in the helicopter on the way there. Michelle survived on life support for six days before she died. The two had never met, but their paths had crossed at the most devastating moment in their lives.
After the deaths of Chris and Michelle, Aline and Alene met. The irony of their connection was heartbreaking. The two became close and began sharing their stories together in schools, hoping it would help young people to understand the dangers of underage drinking and the consequences of drinking and driving.
This year, 2018, marks the 25th anniversary of the day that brought them together. Over the years they’ve shared sad stories and celebrated marriages and births in both families. Their bond is truly unique and they understand each other’s sorrows like no one else.
“We live, we cry, we love, we laugh, and we find a way to live again, but we never forget,” Aline Skelley says. “We make their memory live and try hard to make something good come from the day that created the defining line in our lives: everything before the crash and everything after the crash.”