An Arizona Original
I’ve told you a little about each of my grandparents, except my Grandpa Howard, who was married to Fuzzy for sixty-plus years. Since I learned this week that his sister-in-law, Florence, has recently taken ill – she’s 102 – today seemed like as good of a time as any to tell you about him.
It is through Grandpa Howard that I and all of my paternal cousins are third-generation Arizonans. Grandpa’s parents arrived in Arizona in 1912 – the same year Arizona became a state. They came here because one of their older sons suffered from breathing problems and their doctor advised them to seek out a warmer, dryer climate.
Life in Arizona was not easy back then. Grandpa Wells struggled to find permanent work and support his family. When Prohibition was declared in 1919, Grandpa Wells and his oldest son saw an opportunity and built a still. They sold pints at the local dances – always giving the deputy on duty his pint for free. He also bought an abandoned gold mine and worked it for a number of years.
Howard was born in 1926, the last of four children spanning more than two decades. He grew up in Kirkland, Arizona, living on his dad’s mining claim. Some years later, Grandpa Wells would sell that claim and give Howard and Fuzzy the money for my father to be born in the hospital.
Grandpa Howard spent a lot of time outside and, consequently, maintained a deep tan for much of my childhood. He was quiet and gruff. Based on everything I saw on television, I incorrectly surmised that he was a Native American. I still remember the stunned silence and the laughter that followed when I floated my theory at a family gathering.
I spent a lot of time with Howard and Fuzzy when I was a child – mostly because I adored my grandma. Grandpa Howard, however, could be a little intimidating. He was a slow talker – he always seemed to chew on his words a bit before he actually spit them out. It could make it hard for someone like me to know when he was actually done speaking. And when he reprimanded me? Well, I never wanted to make him angry. Once, when I was eight or nine, he or Fuzzy almost stumbled over some shoes I’d left in the middle of the floor. In his deep voice, he told me never to do that again – to either keep my shoes on my feet or put my shoes out of the way. To this day, when I take my shoes off at Fuzzy’s house, I still stick them under an end table.
He was always calm and had an amazing poker face. He could make anyone believe anything. He knew the difference between a buyer’s market and seller’s market and how to capitalize on either one. He told me that the secret to a happy marriage was never to fight – though I’m not sure I believe that. I guess it worked for Fuzzy and him, though I think Fuzzy actually has a pretty high temper.
In December of 2009, he was officially diagnosed with lung cancer. I say “officially” because I think he had known for a lot longer what was wrong with him. Dan tells me that he turned to Fuzzy and said, “Well, we had a good run.” I don’t remember that specifically – but I do remember that he had a speech for everyone, including his grandsons-in-law.
He didn’t linger – he lasted less than a week after the diagnosis. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just about a perfect death: enough time to tell everyone how you feel about them, but not so long that everyone wishes you would just get it over with already. He was 83.