Memories of Grandpa still strong after 25 years

August 01, 1997

Twenty-five years ago today, I lost my best friend - my buddy, my confidant, my grandfather.

Every Aug. 3, I wake before dawn and think about the man named Theodore Jerome Wells.

Most people called him Ted, but I called him whenever I needed a pal. It was easier to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders when I was riding on his.

One time a teacher in elementary school asked me to tell about him.

"He keeps your motor running," I replied.

"Oh, he's a doctor," she said, trying to coax more information from me.

I guess you could say that. He was a mechanic, and there was no problem he couldn't fix.

Nothing could mend a 9-year-old's broken heart when he departed, with so much undone and so many words unsaid.

His garage was my refuge, the place where I could escape. The junkyard across the road was my playground, but it was Grandpa's kingdom.


I think he saw it as the future, and that's probably why he was in such a panic when a fire broke out early that morning in 1972. The resulting stress caused his heart attack at age 54.

I remember lying in bed at my parents' place a few houses down the street, listening to the sirens wailing, with no inkling of how my world would change.

I'd never been to a funeral before, and it comforted me to see so many flowers.

Morning glories were his favorites, and each day we'd walk out on the porch and count how many had opened.

My husband and I planted morning glories when we bought our house seven years ago, and each year when we sprinkle new seeds I'm reminded of how Grandpa's smile grew on you.

Grandpa and I had a language all our own. We'd listen to the woodpecker drumming in the plum tree, and we'd sing goofy little songs to accompany the strange bird.

Gram, his wife, liked to dress me in lacy frocks on Sundays and take me for rides in the country. Grandpa's thing was to get me chocolate milk shakes, which we called geedunks for some unexplained reason, during those afternoon jaunts.

Chocolate ice cream and ruffled dresses just don't mix, and Gram wasn't too thrilled when he'd hand me one of the sticky concoctions. But Grandpa's philosophy was that the fear of having an accident shouldn't keep you from doing something you loved.

I later learned how much he valued those outings, because he was a workaholic who never took a vacation. He always found time for me, his first grandchild.

I'm told he was a pretty gruff guy, but I thought he was the kindest man I'd ever known. One of my most vivid memories was driving around with him in his wrecker in June 1972, hauling out cars that had been stranded in the floodwaters from Hurricane Agnes.

It wasn't long until I became a teenager, and I filed away the things he taught me, preferring long, painted fingernails to ones with grease under them.

In the last year or so, I've realized that some of his predictions have come true. I've turned out to be Grandpa's little girl, all right.

I'm starting to fix things, despite my lack of mechanical ability. I no longer leave all the household repairs to my husband. If I screw it up, I just do it over.

And I'm starting to watch NASCAR. I'm sure the man who loved racing in any form - and drove a race car himself - would be amused to hear that.

Then there's the country music thing. My switch from head-banging rock to Western swing didn't happen overnight, but it never ceases to amaze my parents. I know Grandpa would be thrilled.

I often wonder what he'd think of me now, and what he'd be like if he'd been able to stay.

I believe he'd approve of my career choice, because reading the newspaper always was an important part of his day. Every evening I'd climb on his lap and we'd read the "funnies." Then he'd read me the books that I knew by heart, changing the words to see if I'd notice.

I always did, because everything he did made an impression on me.

I'll think about all those things today, which probably won't be that different from any other Aug. 3.

I'll count my morning glories, then I'll count my blessings that God gave us nine glorious years.

Teri Johnson is a Staff Writer for Lifestyle.

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