Columnist

A great obituary – an even better man

March 14, 2014 

Harry and Jane Wells

COURTESY OF ERIN WELLS CRIST

— Surely the real Harry Wells could not live up to his obituary.

Even a guy who rode on an ATV farm vehicle to give away his daughter at her wedding last year could not be as tough and tender, funny and loving – just plain great – as to have listed among his survivors a “beautiful herd of brown-eyed Jersey cows.”

Turns out, Wells was even better in life than the herd he milked.

After working all day Tuesday, Wells, 61, died right there on his Rock Haven Dairy Farm, which straddles the state line west of Clover. He once posed for a photo with one foot in each state, grinning like he was on top of the world – which he surely was.

His obituary was printed in Friday’s edition of The Herald. He was the husband of Jane Wells for 33 years and the father of three girls – Lark and Erin and Abby – but he always told people he was just a dairy farmer.

That’s like saying Babe Ruth was just a ballplayer.

“My daddy wasn’t like anyone else, so he deserved an obituary that wasn’t like anyone else,” said Erin Wells Crist, the middle of Wells’ three daughters who wrote the tribute. She also was that bride last year on the farm, where her father talked to hundreds of guests – everyone from kids to grannies – and wowed them all.

At the wedding reception, someone uttered the words “Harry Houdini.” It was a secret code, and from under a hand-hewn deck came Mason jars filled with moonshine strong enough to make one of his Jersey cows give chocolate milk.

All Harry Wells did was work and love and work and love. Finally his heart – which had more than enough room for his wife and daughters and everybody he ever met – just gave out. Even labor and love have limits.

“But don’t think that Harry was a saint now, because Harry was far from it,” Jane Wells said. “He was a man. Our anniversary is in November, my birthday in December, then comes Christmas. Some years if I got one present, that was ahead of the game.

“Every year with Harry was like two years with anybody else, so it is like we were married 66 years. We didn’t get married for a while after we started dating.”

Why’s that, Jane?

“He wanted to make sure I could milk cows first.”

A thousand times, Harry Wells asked his daughters to “pull my finger,” and he laughed every time. He talked tough and he milked cows and he sold milk and he lived a life with a smile that would not cease. When his daughters made him get a cellphone, his first text to his daughter: “Can you hear me?”

Wells’ obit dutifully reported that he was voted “Best Looking” in Clover High School’s class of 1971, and that he starred in every sport.

“I was his best friend then and now,” said Preston Stewart, who grew up down the road and for almost six decades was Wells’ inseparable pal. “He was the best lookin’, and he was the star baseball player and the quarterback on the football team. Hard-headed and soft-hearted, and the best guy anybody ever met.

“Nobody loved their family like Harry.”

Wells’ daughters were the only kids in Clover schools whose daddy built them a potato gun – yes, a PVC pipegun to shoot potatoes out of.

“Everybody who ever came over here had to shoot the potato gun,” said daughter Lark Wells.

According to Wells’ obituary, he graduated from Clemson University, where he studied agriculture and dairy science.

“True,” said his wife, “but it took him years. He went to college in Spartanburg, first. But the farm was here, the work was here, he was needed here. He would go a semester, then have to work the farm and take a semester or a year off. He would go back to school and then the farm pulled him back.”

Wells was a man who could eat, and it appears that he often was quite thirsty. There is a mention of “pintos and cornbread and milk” in an obit for a guy who never drank store milk, only milk straight from his own cows. And like a real Southern dairy man, he soaked the cornbread in the milk.

The obituary also mentioned beer. In fact, beer was listed first – even before milk.

“Harry liked a cold beer,” Stewart said. “No doubt, that part was true.”

“Harry said more than once that one advantage of being an adult is you can have a cold beer when you want one,” Jane Wells said. “I didn’t disagree.”

After work days that lasted from sunup to sundown – dairy cows must be milked twice a day, every day – Wells sure deserved a couple of cold ones. He grew up on the farm. His obituary said he was “driving a tractor by the time he was 3.” He rose every morning to a day filled with milk and manure – and milk prices that would drop and make his heart flutter with worry.

“He loved this land,” said daughter Erin. “It was like he was a part of it, and he’s a part of the land here.”

There is no formal funeral for Wells, but at 11 a.m. Saturday, according to his obituary, there will be a memorial service where anybody who shows up is “welcome to stay following the service to shoot the breeze and have snacks and a beverage.”

There will be food enough for an Army battalion. There will be beer and wine, lemonade and iced tea. And snacks, popcorn and peanuts.

“He loved some parched peanuts,” Jane Wells said. “And milk, of course. Dairy farm without milk, people might talk.”

This matriarch of the farm comes straight out of Norman Rockwell’s America, just like the husband she is burying. A couple so close she completed his sentences.

Theirs is not a love spoken, but a love in the bones. It is a love so pure that a wife deals with the sudden death of a husband by laughing about him and making sure that the world knows he was a great man. A man who loved his farm and family – and didn’t have to explain that to anybody.

“Never another like Harry,” said Jane Wells. “He lived hard and he loved hard.”

And yes, Wells loved the “beautiful herd of brown-eyed Jersey cows” that feature prominently in his obituary.

Jersey cows have more butterfat in the milk than other cows. The milk is richer and sweeter. It usually is used to make ice cream and cheese and other dairy products.

“When I met Harry, it was said he always had blue-eyed girlfriends,” said Jane Wells, “but he got me, and I had brown eyes.

“Everybody knows that Jersey cows have the biggest brown eyes.”

The Wells daughters all came into the world with brown eyes.

In that wedding held at Rock Haven, in April, with the vows exchanged down at the creek that cuts across the state line, Wells gave away his daughter in front of friends, family and a host of Jersey cows peeking over the fence.

Their brown eyes watched Wells give away one of the only things in the world he loved more than the patch of ground he was standing on – one of his brown-eyed daughters.

And the first song played at the reception, the one for the father-daughter dance?

“Brown Eyed Girl,” said Jane Wells. “That was Harry.”

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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