I cannot help but be touched as I read some bloggers words on their ancestors posted in honor of Winternights.
I do not know most of my ancestors.
I could give a blanket honor to most of them, but it feels woefully inadequate, like a cop out or a token effort to say “well I honored them! moral clean slate!”
Instead, I will give honor today to two very specific and recent ancestors.
My grandparents died when I was fairly young, and while my memory of my father’s father and my mother’s mother are strong, kept alive by the strong emotional attachment I felt for them in life, I do not even remember their specific deeds very well. But they had to have been some of the greatest souls ever to walk this world, because they raised my parents, who are amazing. They did what anybody should hope to achieve: they didn’t just leave a legacy. Everyone, from heroes to villains, leave a legacy by virtue of their actions. But what my grandparents did was they left a worthy legacy. They left a mark on the world that the world is better for having.
From what I have heard of my grandfather, earlier in his life, he had a propensity for being difficult and stubborn, about as biddable as a moody donkey. I say with both a sigh and a chuckle that this was a trait he passed on to my father, and also to me. He was a member of the Air Corps in World War Two, flying bombers. He never struck me as the type who thought too much on what he did then, more like he accepted that it was wartime and it had to be done. He didn’t enjoy it, but he saddled up and did his duty as a soldier. By the earliest time I remember him, he had more or less settled down into living in an RV, puffing cigars and touring America with his Doxen, Duke (who was almost as stubborn as he was– I loved and hated that dog!). He was the sort of man who could be difficult to like, and he never really seemed to care too much about what I thought of him; he was there, whether I liked it or not so I may as well just give up and accept that fact. I certainly had trouble getting close to him as a child, but that’s just sort of how he was. He was distant by nature, and yet at the same time he seemed to me like could fix pretty much anything, from a broken heart to a broken swing set. I remember flying down to Texas with my dad so that he could be there in his father’s last moments, and I recall the sense of shock that my stubborn old goat of a grandfather had finally been beaten. As they said of Teddy Roosevelt, “Death had to take him sleeping, for if he had been standing, there surely would have been a fight.”
My grandmother could have given Mother Teresa a run for her money as the kindest woman on the planet. She’d grown up during the Great Depression, and where it might have made her bitter and miserly, it instead only seemed to endow her with the greatest compassion I have ever had the pleasure of seeing, and indeed, I doubt I will ever see greatness like that again. I don’t know that much about her, but she wound up in a very painful marriage to a man with at best a fourth grade education who had a thing for abuse, both emotional and physical. Yet my grandmother, for all the hurt she endured, seemed to never break. And she did her best to pass that same strength on to her daughter, my mother. I didn’t know my grandmother for very long, but I still remember that she always seemed to be smiling, even when she wasn’t. Something about her just made me feel at ease. I was a pretty awkward child, and I’m sure I got on her nerves more than a few times, but only in hindsight can I see the remarkable patience she exerted which can only be learned through a long and hard life like the one she had lived. My grandmother loved children, was active in her church, and while I don’t have the paper evidence in hand, it’s impossible for me to believe she didn’t participate in charity when she had the ability to do so. My mother took grandma’s death very hard for years, but I was a stark contrast. I just sort of accepted it, knowing she’d lived a long and full life and that she’d done the best thing and left the world a little shinier than she’d found it.
I didn’t exactly treat my grandparents with 100% of the respect they deserved (I’m guessing 65-67%, tops), and a lot of that was because as a child, I wasn’t sure how to. They both lived in Texas while I lived in Alaska, so opportunities to see them were few and far between and that somehow managed to make respecting them even harder, though I definitely knew my grandmother better. I wish I’d gotten to know them both better, but my parents are so very like them that my best chance of getting to know my grandparents lies in those that followed in their footsteps.
Yes, they can be difficult. But so can I. We get on each other’s nerves, and occasionally, I say I hate them. But we should never ever really mean that. I know for a fact that so it is with me and my dad, so it was with him and my grandfather. And while I have NUMEROUS disagreements with my dad, it’s more that even though I know he’s very often right, I refuse to back down out of stubbornness and pride. I’m sure I grate on my mother the way I grated on my grandmother, and I know that even though my mother is far from unbreakable, she still has an immense strength that she tries hard to pass on to my sister and I, just as her mother did for her. My grandmother is someone I think about often, but I know she’s doing well the place beyond us– Hel came to me in a dream months ago when I particularly missed her and just reassured me that grandma was doing fine and that her existence was still full and satisfying. I cherish dreams like that, because they are so much more than dreams. They’re truth.
And in the case of my grandparents, I’m pleased and honored to say that while the truth can be obstinate, odd, and sometimes beyond my understanding, it is fundamentally good.