I have only one memory of my grandfather. As a little child (very little), I walked to a back bedroom of our home in Phoenix. My grandparents were sitting on a couch in the darkened room with the window behind them. All I could see were their silhouettes against the light. I stopped short, and my grandfather said in a tough, manly, deep voice, “Well, what do you want?” I do not know that I wanted anything, but the sound in his voice scared me, and as I turned to run, my grandmother scolded him for frightening me. That is my only memory of him.
My mom never wanted to talk about her dad or her childhood. All I have through the years are bits and pieces of her childhood growing up. Bits and pieces of stories put together in my mind like a jigsaw puzzle that is missing most of the key pieces to really know who not only my grandfather was but also my own mother. As a kid growing up in California, I did not put much thought into this; it was just the way it was. Besides all the stuff of adolescence, my grandparents lived in Kansas. They might as well lived in the Appalachian mountains. It’s all the same to most people in California.
It’s funny, how the course of a river can change its path over time, or in my case, my life. You see, I married a girl who, like my mom, is from Kansas, and over time, life brought me back close to where my mom was raised.
I made a couple of trips up to the little town of Winchester, Kansas and drove around using the puzzle pieces my mom had given me. I found the old farm. I even recognized some places from old picture slides. I eventually made my way nervously and sheepishly to the rest home where my grandmother was. I remember when I saw her picture on the door, I was taken by the resemblance between my own mother and her. I knocked and made my way into her room, introduced myself, and explained who I was. She remembered, well, for about five minutes. We talked anyway. I read to her some of the cards that were on her bulletin board, she enjoyed that. I would explain who I was from time to time, and she would light with excitement and say “Oh my stars!” in disbelief that I was really there. She would tell short memories of her children, of my mom. She was so proud of her babies, her boys, her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter.
One of my wife’s friends grew up just down the road from Winchester and asked her uncle if he had heard of my grandfather. She shared some stories and encouraged me to try again to get in touch with my uncle. I had about given up when he finally called back and agreed to meet.
I remembered him. He visited us often through the years when we lived in Phoenix. It was like kin that had been lost across the world and years later reunited. We talked a lot. From him, I was given bags, boxes, and buckets of puzzle pieces. That made me want more. I was hooked. I wanted to know more about my family, more about my mom. I lived with her for years and years but there was so much that was “none of my business.” Now I was able to add to the puzzle and begin to make out some kind of picture of where I came from. Even though I did not know my grandfather, there is a lot of his personality and build in me, I think. Some stories make him out to be a little like James Dean. I picture him as a John Wayne of sorts, or maybe the kind of man Louis L’Amour would write about, a good man. That is how I am going to remember him.
Through the last two years, I have met cousins and another uncle I had never met. I have met my mom’s best friend from when she grew up. I like them, all of them. I obtained all the “known” slides of my grandmother which have since been digitized. I learned about ancestors and relatives that I will never meet. This is truly the best part. Family. That is the true lost treasure that has since been found.
My grandparents, Marian and Durland Wallace.