I met the man my dad's family called Uncle Emil exactly once. I was a very young child at the time, but I remember the occasion quite clearly. We'd made the trip up Highway 99 from our ranch home in the Antelope Valley to Patterson, which is about 15 miles south and west from Modesto. One of the reasons I remember this, I guess, is that his farm there was a lot different from the ranch upon which I was raised.
Emil was my dad's uncle, my paternal grandmother's brother, which I guess makes him my great uncle. He arrived in the U.S. from Sweden somewhere about 1900 and farmed up there for many years. He died in the 1970s.
Stick with me, now, because this is where things get a little strange.
For more than 50 years, Laura's parents milked a herd of Jersey cows on their 100-acre ranch not too far from Patterson. When Laura's mom died in 2006, she was laid to rest in a little cemetery just outside Patterson.
I was sure I'd heard Laura's dad refer to this cemetery as "Stanislaus County Cemetery #37," or something like that, so the Patterson connection, and the fact that Uncle Emil might be there, never crossed my mind.
Laura's dad died at the end of 2012 and he is buried there next to Laura's mom. So of course we have been in and out of this little farmland cemetery many times.
But the last time we were there, when we drove in I noticed a sign that clearly called this place "Patterson Cemetery." And the penny finally dropped. I thought, "Hm. I wonder if Uncle Emil could be here." I mentioned that to Laura.
We visited the Pappas grave site and left flowers as usual, and departed. But our usual route out was blocked by a gate that was closed. So we turned around and backtracked.
As we drove back toward the main entrance, Laura, scanning for the Lyons marker, said, "There it is!"
Sure enough. A stone marking the last resting place of Emil and Alma Lyons. We've driven right past it many, many times and never noticed it.
We both were absolutely gobsmacked to think that our families have this weird connection, this odd thing in common - grave markers just a couple of hundred feet apart.
I think that the next time we visit to place flowers on the graves of Laura's parents, I'll save one for old Uncle Emil.