07 April 2015
Three weeks ago today, my grandfather died. He was 93. He served in the army during World War II, was injured, and received a Purple Heart Medal. In honor of my grandfather, and of all those whose World War II stories are untold, I’d like to use this column to collect and recollect some history together over the next few months.
My grandfather and I had a good, loving relationship, but we lived several hundred miles apart ever since I was about 11, so we only got to visit once or twice a year. During one visit, when I was in college, I was sitting in my grandparents’ living room with my grandfather. He was probably working a crossword puzzle or watching “The Price Is Right.” We exchanged pleasantries. And then he said, “You never really got to know me, did you, Shea?”
I was a bit stunned. I stammered, “Well, gosh, I sure hope I know you, Papaw. I think I do.”
He didn’t reply, and we went back to watching whatever was on TV.
For years, I felt a little bad about my reply. I saw it as a knee-jerk response born of my own discomfort. I feared I’d missed the chance to learn more about him, to say something like, “Really, Papaw? Then, by all means, tell me: what do you want me to know about you?” (Eventually, years later, I did start that conversation, through letters, and those legal pad pages with handwritten words from my grandfather and grandmother are great treasures to me.)
But now, in retrospect, I’m a little more gracious with myself and my impulsive first response. In many ways, I was right: I did know my grandfather. He was part of my life for 31 years – a full third of his life – and so I knew things, real, intimate things, about him.