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family matters

August 24th, 2004

My grandfather is one of the people who should have been in DC for the dedication of the World War II memorial. He is part of the ‘Greatest Generation.’ He spent 50 months in Europe during and after the war. Helping to defeat the Axis powers and rebuild the infrastructure of the continent. When he returned home he applied for the G.I. bill to finish his studies which the government had interrupted to ship him off to war. He was denied because they said they had no record of his service. So he finished on his own money while my grandmother worked. Then the government did find the record of his service — in time to recall him and send him to Korea to fight.

It is sad that my grandfather fought for his country in two wars and now cannot remember that he just told me that story. Last week I went to Alabama to see him and he told me about the governments selective memory numerous times in the span of a conversation that lasted only a few hours. It was the same with other stories.

I am not as close to my grandfather as I would like to be. I have not seen him in six years and since that time he has had open heart surgery and a stroke that robbed him of his fine motor control on his left side — his dominant side. I grew up too far away to be as close as I would have liked.

My grandfather is the person I most admired as a student. He was the engineer that made me interested in engineering. And it is sad to see he is starting to fade. He never seemed old when I was growing up. Bald, yes but not old. He walked five miles a day and was mentally sharp. Now it makes me really sad that I do not know him better and that I don’t have a chance to get to know him better.
I guess it’s just a reminder of mortality. This whole incident makes me very depressed on some level. Not the kind of overriding depression where you can’t do anything but I find myself thinking a lot about things like growing old, not knowing my grandparents better because we lived so far apart and how well my kids might one day know my family. It just keeps popping up.

The idea of extended family is foreign to me. I’ve known families where the grandparents, aunts and uncles of my friends where virtually a part of everyday life. While to me my grandparents where people I saw every other year or on special occasions. I am reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake right now and I can identify with the main characters since of being lost on encounters with his own family. Every few years his family would pack up and fly to India to see countless relatives that he had not seen or heard from since the last trip.

I’ve never met half my cousins. Aunt’s and Uncles? Seen them two, three or maybe five times in my life. I wonder if this could be part of the reason I don’t form large social groups well? I don’t know, just stuff that has been going through my head while driving 40 hours to and from Alabama. That’s a lot of time to think.

2 Responses to “family matters”

Making the move out to Ohio, I thought about family, too. Mine isn’t large, but with a new move it seems now more splintered. Maybe that’s just because I feel a new place is unsettling, unknown; thus I need to hold tighter on to what I already know as familiar and close. Keep the memories of your grandfather as you recall him: filled with courage, creativity. That way you can pass on the best of what his life meant to you. You’ve already done that with the passion for engineering that you’re developing. I don’t know your grandfather, but to know that you garnered that inspiration from him, I think he’d smile.

I know how you feel. I feel that way a lot when I talk to my grandfather. It dismayed me recently to realize how little I know about him and that I don’t even really know the relevant questions to ask. It is crazy how you can know someone your whole life but not really know them at all except in the context of your familial relationship. However, the fact that your grandfather was able to so inspire you in spite of the distance means that something of the core of your grandfather will live on, even if the details of his life get forgotten.

I hope you are having lots of fun!