Yesterday would have been my grandfather’s 100th birthday.
It’s kind of a sobering thought. Although he passed many years ago, he’s still a part of my life in many ways, which is surprising. It’s not that we weren’t close when he was alive, it’s that – on the face of it – we didn’t seem to have much of anything in common. He came of age during the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression; I came of age during the Reagan administration. He quit school after the sixth grade and grew up to be a truck driver and custodian, among other blue-collar jobs; I was the first in my family to graduate college, studying drama and film & TV – far artsier than I’m sure he was ever inclined. But now that I look back I regret the time we didn’t spend together and the things I never thought to ask. What must he have seen and done that I was clueless about? The history alone. I know he served in World War II, but I’ve no idea if he saw any overseas action. He lived through the Civil Rights movement in the South and although he was a product of his time he adapted better than many I knew. If I could go back and sit down with him I’d certainly, thanks to years of hindsight, have plenty to discuss. I think the most interesting thing about this man whom I shared blood but seeming little else is that we are alike in more ways than I ever realized when he was around. We have the same sense of humor. That’s something I came to realize only a few years ago. Being of disparate backgrounds and generations, we expressed it quite differently but there are things I recall where I go, “Yeah. That’s me.” Which is pretty cool. I also got his hairline, of which I’m less than appreciative, and a few of his foibles as well. Not to suggest I’m bitter about that – just aware. It’s a connection to the past and we are all connected to our past in some way. Being aware of it just makes it more poignant, I guess.
My grandfather wasn’t a perfect man. He made more mistakes than many, less than some. But he seemed genuinely contrite about them, even if he never spoke of it. Knowing him primarily in the later, declining years of his life, I was presented with a man who perhaps was not at his best, but a man who had learned from his past and chose to be a better man, even if he didn’t always succeed. In the end, he was a father figure to me, one of the few, and for that I am grateful. And for all his flaws, I look back at his life and know there wasn’t a time when I didn’t feel that he cared for me or that he was proud of me. That’s what I’ll remember most about him.