As we drove through the countryside this past week on our mini summer vacation, I knew that it would bring an opportunity for some downtime, some photo opportunities, time to read, or perhaps even the chance to stretch out and catch a few rays of sunshine. We were headed for a small town in West Virginia, New Martinsville, Douglas’s hometown and where most of his family still lives. What I didn’t realize as we headed west was that this trip would really turn out to be all about generations.
We had three entries in our agenda for this trip. The first was to give Jeremy an opportunity to experience “Town & Country Days,” New Martinsville’s take on the county fair. He would get a chance to explore the fair with his cousins without the big city dangers lurking around every corner. He would be able to get a glimpse of the simple life and small town values before starting a new school year.
The next item on the agenda was actually the first one put on the calendar and the reason we were here this particular week. Douglas was scheduled to play at the local pub, owned by his 6th grade math teacher.
The third item was the first to get marked complete. We needed to place a new marker on the gravesite of Douglas’s great-uncle, Clarence A. Ebert, and in doing so award him the military honor he earned during World War II, the Purple Heart.
Clarence Ebert was wounded and died from his injuries while serving in the Army during the Second World War. He was Douglas’s grandfather’s youngest brother, and his life had become somewhat of a mystery. Douglas’s grandfather passed away without ever knowing what had become of his baby brother and Clarence’s young bride. In 2004 Douglas spent a summer playing the part of investigative reporter, or perhaps family historian would be a better description. After months of research, he was able to tell his family what had happened to Clarence. It’s an interesting story, but we haven’t discovered how the whole thing ends yet. But we do know this much: Clarence earned a Purple Heart and he deserved to have it buried with him.
And so there we were at St. Joseph’s, at the top of a mountain, digging at Private Clarence Ebert’s gravesite. I think even the youngest among us, eight-year old Karlee, appreciated the significance of what we were doing. We were honoring a soldier who gave his life for his country. It didn’t matter that most of us never knew him. We all felt like we were doing something important and meaningful.
Afterwards, we spent maybe another hour winding our way through the mountains on very narrow roads, looking for another cemetery that according to Douglas’s father, Kenny, was right off the main road, just a little further down and “around the next bend”. We were hoping to find a clue in the lingering mystery surrounding Clarence’s bride and a possible child. We didn’t quite find what we were looking for, but we were reminded that we really are all getting older and our memory isn’t quite what it used to be. The cemetery wasn’t just around the next bend, but we did find it, and along the way spent the time laughing and talking about old times as Douglas and Kenny pointed out familiar places and the spot where “we pelted Nelda’s car with tomatoes”. Time well spent, if you ask me.
Later that evening, as we approached the bright lights and sounds of the fair, we ran into another reminder of what this trip seems to be all about. Douglas’s Uncle Dean sat in the shade near the entrance. It was as if he had been placed there to give Douglas and Kenny, but mostly Douglas, another opportunity to listen to an old man’s memories. It was a chance that Douglas happily took advantage of and so he sat and listened and laughed.