I never knew my Grandfather Wells, he died before I was born. I did, however, have years to get to know my Grandfather Wehunt and that was one phenomenal man.
I don’t know what his early life was like; he never talked about it with us. I do know that from the time I was old enough to remember, this gentle, genial man from the Ozarks was the world’s best grandfather. He would swoop in, and we would all just love to be with him, whatever he was doing.
It wasn’t until I was eight or so, that someone said, “He’s your step-grandfather, isn’t he?” I didn’t know what that meant, I didn’t realize that he was my grandmother’s second husband. I just thought a step-grandfather was someone extra special.
He was a part of my life until his death in 1985, just shortly after my grandmother had died and after my oldest daughter was born. He was such a sucker for children; and I was looking forward to my children getting to know this most wonderful of grandfathers, but he was dead, suddenly, at the age of 68.
He was visiting family when he died, so he was buried in California, and not in Washington with my grandmother. And while we knew where her grave was, I was unable to attend his funeral, nor was any of my immediate family and so, the place where he was buried was unclear to us. It made me sad to think about it, in a way it felt like I had been disconnected from him.
On this trip, one of the things I researched was the possibility that he might be buried somewhere along the route we were taking. Sure enough, his death notice said he was buried in a small town outside of Lodi and I determined I would go to see it, see if I could find my grandpa again.
We found the cemetery without much difficulty. Out in the country, it did not resemble many of the cemeteries I have seen, Where most of the grave-grounds in South Dakota are green and grass-covered, the intense heat of California made grass impractical. Graves were cement or gravel or just dirt-covered and a small sign outside the gate warned, “Beware of rattlesnakes.” I like to think the taken aback feeling that gave me would have tickled my grandfather’s sense of humor. I could almost hear his southern drawl cackling in my ears as I started cautiously down the center of that small cemetery, searching the headstones.
I veered to the right and Roy veered to the left, but Roy finally discovered his headstone, right down the center of the yard. There it was, “Jess Wehunt” written on a beautiful gray stone, surrounded by the members of his family who had joined him there.
I stood by his grave, which had been decorated with some flowers by some good soul and looked out over the vineyards surrounding the cemetery, to the mountains beyond them. And I felt suddenly, that my connection with him wasn’t missing after all. I had found him again, revived all his spirit and all his warmth and vitality, which he had shared with me over the years.
My husband and I sat there for a little while, sharing our thoughts and memories of him as we studied the small graveyard. Then, it was time to go, to continue on our journey. Instead of feeling sad, I was smiling as I headed down the road. I had all those years of this phenomenal man and now, in a sort of closure, I know where his earthy remains are commemorated and remembered. There you are, Grandpa, I have rediscovered you, and I am content!