The old 1910 homestead had been home sweet home for generations of folks — countless memories made within its walls. But not one person, young or old, could ever imagine how a remembrance would someday touch heaven’s gates.
“It was a kid’s paradise,” said Darci (Sonderman) Mitcham as she reminisced about growing up with her sister, Cami (Sonderman) Hanson, at the Sonderman place in Kennewick. “There was a cellar we played in and we had horses and dogs on 6 acres with trees all around. We’d build forts under the big pine tree next to the house.”
For adventurous children, it was an idyllic environment, one the girls’ dad, Dick, had also explored as a child and teen when he would visit his Grandpa Willis and Grandma Effie Sonderman, who homesteaded there. Special memories of the place — and Grandma Effie’s hugs — stayed close in the little boy’s heart. Years later, the same home became Dick and wife Jacque’s permanent home.
“My mom, who used to teach for the Kennewick School District, told me recently that there’s an old tree still standing where I used to sit with my dog,” Darci said about the homestead on Fourth and Edison, a site no longer out in the countryside.
But in the 1960s, it was country living and it suited Dick perfectly.
“My dad was a man’s man,” Darci said, remembering how active he had been even after losing his leg in a 1966 motorcycle accident. “He did everything anyway — waterskied, rode the four-wheeler. When I was a kid his having one leg wasn’t an issue.”
That love of being active included hunting and fishing with his brother, Carl, and in earlier years with their dad, Bud — three guys who delighted in being in the great outdoors together. Those special memories were meant to be captured, so when they got back to the homestead from a hunting trip, Bud tallied their success on a furnace closet door.
The trio had a deep bond, forged around campfires and fishing holes. But when Dick and Carl’s dad passed away in 1964, the pair grieved but continued the tradition. Then in January 2011, Dick’s brother died, their fishing and hunting together only a memory.
“My dad used to say, “When I die, I want to go where Dad and Carl are so we can be together,” Darci said, smiling at the memory of a man who’d been raised in the church, but admittedly was rough around the edges.
At the time that request seemed distant, something out there in the future. Dick had trips to the Blue Mountains still to do, time at the beach ahead. But on January 20, in the early morning hours, the 77-year old husband and father died, leaving his family in deep mourning.
Then only a few hours after Dick’s death, a telephone call to the Sonderman home felt as if the past had touched the present.
“The morning dad died, I was at my mom’s in Kennewick working on arrangements for dad's funeral,” oldest daughter, Cami of Spokane said. She remembered how bereft she had felt when the telephone rang. “The woman lived in our old house — the homestead — and when they had the furnace replaced they found an old picture behind it.”
It was a picture of her dad’s beloved Grandma Effie that had fallen down between the walls when the house was being remodeled. A long-lost framed photo of a grandmother who had so loved her grandson Dick.
“Besides the picture, I asked her if there was still writing on the inside of the furnace room door,” Cami said, explaining how Dick, his brother, Carl, and their dad, Bud, tracked their hunting results there.
There was a pause to verify. Then came word that the pencil marks were still there — handwriting that had recorded memories of camaraderie.
But what the woman said next might take anyone’s breath away, “I’ve been meaning to call about the picture for over a year, and I finally decided to do it today.”
On the very morning Dick Sonderman passed away.
A sign? God’s mysterious ways? For this family, it was a heaven-sent reassurance, one that speaks of a joyful reunion in a beautiful place — a place three buddies now call home.