My parents and grandparents are gone. That’s been true for a few years now.
I hate having regrets and I really try to be sure to not leave the important stuff undone so that I won’t have regrets later on. But I think it’s inevitable. Nobody’s perfect.
I loved them and they knew it. I don’t have anything like that hanging over my head.
I was a pretty good daughter and granddaughter. I feel fine about that.
But if I had a do-over, I would’ve asked a lot more questions and I would’ve really paid attention to the answers and I would’ve written it all down. Because, at some point, there comes a time when you can no longer ask questions and I think, maybe, to avoid regret, you have to have the wherewithal to ask preemptively. You have to know what answers and stories you’ll want before you desperately want them.
And you have to know that even though your memory is sharp as a tack when you first have the conversation, you will age and children will steal your sleep and your synapses will stop firing with regularity and you may not remember what you were told. You should record stuff or document it somehow. Even those stories you've heard a million times. Really. Write it down.
And you should recognize, if you haven't already, that you probably have less time than you think you have.
Everyone has an incredible story to tell and those stories have been instrumental in making you who you are. It’s hard to know how precious they are until you can no longer hear them.
This comes up because it’s Memorial Day. And I wanted to tell you that my grandfather ran the USO in Waycross, GA during WWII. It was a white USO. Black soldiers had to wait in the train station while the white soldiers enjoyed food and entertainment. My grandfather would find out when the trains were to arrive and he would bring sandwiches and coffee to the soldiers who were not allowed into the USO. And he worked to open a USO for black soldiers. And he did.
I THINK that’s the story. That’s how I remember it from many many years ago. If she were still around, I would call my mom for verification and some details. And she’d be proud that I was writing it and she would tell me the whole story and she’d laugh when she told me it caused some strain between my grandfather and grandmother because Gram wasn’t so sure it was a good idea…. I think.
My dad was in the army. I believe he worked in army intelligence. I know he was stationed in Virginia for a time. The story I remember best is that they had two beagles – Penny and Cesar – and my dad took them onto the base one time to run an errand and left them in the car for a moment and he left the windows partially down and the dogs got out of the car and ended up swimming in the officers' swimming pool. Disaster!
I’m pretty sure I’m telling you that with at least partial accuracy.
I can’t tell you much more about any of those things. I really wish I could.
Bunny has no memory of her grandmother. She has a few fading memories of her grandfather but they will go away eventually. Pip will never have any memories of either of them. It’s up to me to make them a real part of my children’s history and that’s where I fear I have really dropped the ball.
And it makes me sad.
So, this Memorial Day, if you are fortunate enough to have parents and grandparents who are still around, maybe document something. Maybe make a point of asking one question every time you see them from now on and record it or film it or write it all down when you get home.
Were they in the military? Get some stories. What did they do? What was the most frightening moment?
How did they meet? Is her story different from his? What were their first jobs? Where was their first house? What did it look like? What did they do for fun?
Ask them to tell you about 5 times when they were exceedingly proud of you. Tell them about 5 times when you were proud of them.
And hug them a little tighter for those of us who can’t do that anymore.
And have a great Memorial Day.
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