Dear FriendsRe: Entry 8
Several years ago my parents moved from the house where I grew up, and the week that they moved the grape vines that had been torn down after my grandfather died in 1973 sprouted through a crack in the driveway along the wall. If they had been growing all that time-- if indeed they were the same vines--that was quite remarkable; I lived there until I was 23 and had not seen them since we took them down in the summer of 1974 when we turned our backyard garden into a yard (another sad thing, in retrospect). What is more likely was that it was not the same vine or was an old seed re-sprouted after all those years, and while one day I may ask a botanist as to the how and the why of it all, I was and am more focused on that it made me remember him again for a time. I only vaguely remembered having a grape arbor, but seeing that vine brought back all those memories of him. It is funny how he still looms large in my life though I was relatively young when he died; perhaps it is what I remembered, perhaps it is the reality, perhaps it is the family story of him the myth, both of those now difficult to discern as different. My sons may, under intense psychotherapy, remember the day I took them to my grandfather’s grave when they were complaining about this or that in their lives being hard, or difficult, or a burden. As we stood there, I pointed out that he came alone to this country when he was 17, and buried himself in the earth every day for over 50 years, was covered up in rock falls more than once, lost wives, children, lost a house in foreclosure in the Depression when he was 50 (don’t tell anyone, as it is a family secret), had black lung, but overcame all of this and persevered and kept moving forward.
I on the other hand, had not ever missed a meal for lack of food, had never even approached anything resembling hardship, and everyone—including my father, me and my two sons, stood on my grandfather’s shoulders, and continue to do so to this day. So before complaining about algebra, or sports, or some other “hardship”, as I told them, get a little perspective. Two years ago I was in a meeting with a state official who asked me if I was related to my grandfather. “Yes”, I said, very surprised that someone would ask me this, “Did you know him?” He replied that he did not but that his father had worked with him, spoke of him often, and never forgot how hard he worked. Forty years later and people remembered. What a legacy, I thought, and think. My grandfather and my father both, whether they knew it or not, had the future on their minds, and I watch both of them willingly sacrifice themselves to that future, that their children might have it better than they did. They did not shrink from this duty, they embraced it. They never had to go off and find themselves, they never had that luxury.
Will we be remembered by the things we leave behind? Will someone find two torn halves, dog-eared, pages missing, of William Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” and wonder who read this book so many times and why? (This is a joke around my house, how I cannot bring myself to throw this beat up old book away). What will that mean? Will they think it was my Bible? My wife keeps a menu board in our kitchen, on which I am forbidden to write; she will put on this board the menus for every day of the week. Now lest you think I command such a feat, it is not so. She wants to do this. She likes to do it. She will, in fact and oddly so, go back and change menus after dinners if they were written incorrectly, or if she altered the entrée, or if we had something different. She is a home economics major and teacher and I am sure there must somewhere be a Home Econ Audit Bureau which governs such things, requiring such diligence under pain of sanction. I have told her that I picture a distant time, far into the future, at an archeological dig over our house, as futuristic grad students slowly, painstakingly sift and brush away 10,000 years of dirt and overburden, some Indiana Jones-type in a metallic Fedora finds that message board and announces to the world: “These strange people worshipped two gods: Mac….and Cheese.”A friend once said he could not envision the end of the United States. It will last forever (SPQR for you Roman scholars out there). Nothing is forever, to paraphrase Isaiah, not the flowers, not the grass, not the buildings, not the trees, nothing except for the Word of God.