My grandparents Wayne Hill and Inez Wright on the front lawn of their high school in 1948. (Yes, I have shared this photo before in my post Time Brings All Things To Pass).
Two days after Thanksgiving I received a phone call informing me that my father had had a grand mal seizure and was being rushed to the hospital. My sister and I hurried down to the little town of Shafter, California, just outside of Bakersfield, in order to be with my dad and to care for his 82 year old mother. Grandma Inie (a nickname for Inez that has stuck with her since childhood) has dementia and cannot care for herself, and Grandpa Wayne died earlier this spring. Lacey and I found a wonderful old folks home (as she calls it in her more lucid moments) for her and spent two weeks filling out paperwork, making a thousand phone calls, buying and packing and cleaning and organizing her things, and choosing which photographs to hang on her wall.
(My dad made a full recovery and came home from the hospital about a week after he went in. He came very close to dying at the beginning there and the first few days were incredibly stressful and scary. The whole thing really turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it provided the catalyst to get Grandma into the best home available just when they happened to have an opening in their “Memory Unit”, and allowed two young women with lots of energy and love to prepare her room for her in a much more fitting manner than her 60 year old sons would have).
This all meant that Lacey and I spent every waking moment immersed in thoughts of birth and death and the succession of generations, of love and loss, of marriage and family, of homes and memories and the accumulation and dispersion of possessions. It was heavy. We cried a lot. But it was also beautiful and touching and brought us closer to each other and to our ancestors, both the living and the dead.
It also meant that we, while combing through the house that our great-grandmother designed and had built in 1950, discovered documents and photographs that we never knew existed. Like this one, taken of Wayne & Inie’s senior class at Shafter High School (which is where they met and which lies directly across the street from their home).
Inie is on the very left in the 2nd row, and Wayne on the very right in the top row.
Of the many other pieces of family history we found, the following two are my favorite.
This is a recording of me reading Wayne’s inscription to Inie in their 1946 sophomore yearbook. He had pursued her for most of their freshman year, but they were still dating other people through most of their sophomore year. Lacey and I feel like this is probably what finally clinched it for Grandpa.
Can you even believe it? Spoken like the hopelessly smitten 16 year old farm boy hailing from South Carolina that he was, but with a dose of loving sweetness that surprised us and turned our hearts to weepy mush.
I especially love the line “all good girls are bound to have a fine future as you will have”. He was offering her that future. And he gave it to her.
They had two sons, who Inie stayed home to raise while Wayne ran the farm. Eventually they had four granddaughters and now four great-granddaughters. They took trips around the country to visit family and see new sights, Wayne having worked hard and managed their money well enough that they, born poor Southern farm folk whose parents migrated to California during the Dust Bowl of the 30′s to seek a better life, enjoyed a very comfortable standard of living. Inie is able to be in such a good home now because of money that Wayne set aside for that very purpose.
But first, of course, came marriage.
They eloped a couple months after graduating high school, driving two hours to a Los Angeles courthouse. Back then a woman had to be 18 and a man 21 in order to marry without their parents’ permission. They were both 18 on August 25th, 1948 so, according to family legend, Inie took Wayne’s pilot’s license (used to spray crops from the air), inserted it into her typewriter, and changed his birth year from 1929 to 1926.
No one knew his pilot’s license still existed until my sister pulled it out of a drawer last week.
His name was Wayne Carlton Hill, the “Carhon” was probably the result of someone reading the LT as H. Handwriting mix-ups are very common with old documents, something to keep in mind when undertaking any kind of ancestry research.
Perhaps she didn’t do the cleanest job but, as Grandma stated in the note that accompanied the license, “it worked”. (When she was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s she went through the house and put notes on countless objects, which has turned out to be very helpful for the rest of us).
It was indeed a fine future. And now it’s the past. And Grandma Inie rocks in her chair, lost in her own mind, and occasionally looks up at the photographs on her wall and recalls her joyful childhood, her high school glory days, and her long & happy marriage to the love of her life. She’s forgotten the details, but she knows she was and is loved. She’s still the most loving person I know.
And though time brings all things to pass that love, and the effect that it has had on her descendants, will continue on.