Storytelling is one of my favorite things. I grew up in a storytelling family, well at least on one side. On my mother’s side, we are Italians, and it seems like Italians are top-notch for storytelling – with our hands, especially. Mom has always been a storyteller. She got it honestly from her parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and passed it on liberally to me and my sisters. Growing up, my sisters told me so many stories of their own memories that sometimes I don’t even know which was a true story, something I experienced myself, or something completely made up. Maybe sometime I’ll share stories on here and have you guess if it was true or not.
On my father’s side, storytelling has never been a strong suit, unless it was related to Bible stories. I have never known much of my family history on that side besides what I or my mother experienced herself. I know some of the high points of my dad’s grandparents. During the war, while Henry was over fighting, my great-grandmother worked with other wives of factory-workers in the jobs they left vacant. Leona, along with the other wartime women workers, were honored for their services eventually. That is most of what I know about them. For a long time, I thought that Henry had been hit by a train (not really sure where that even came from) but actually, he died from emphysema developed from years of factory work. Leona lived to be 97, but suffered from Alzheimer’s.
My grandmother, Ann, passed away just before my husband and I started dating. He never got to meet her, but we have spent some time with my grandfather Ed. Like I said, I never heard stories from their past, not really. I think it subtly led to a disconnect between me and that side of the family because we never had those connections. I seldom ever saw them as anything younger than my parents. I seldom saw pictures of them from before they looked like grandparents. It was bizarre, but I can see now how essential storytelling is for connecting across generations. I always felt closer to my grandparents who lived a whole state away from us than the ones who lived in the same town.
On a recent visit with my grandpa Ed, we got him talking about life before my dad came around. Life before and during the war, when everything changed for that generation. He grew up in the city and grandma grew up on a farm. He was 17 when he decided to enlist. He went downtown and had himself the biggest, fattiest meal he could and then went to the recruiter’s office. He took his shoes off to be weighed just like the rest of the guys. The recruiter squinted, told him to put his shoes back on and then said he was within weight. Hah!
Grandpa had had some training with repairing radios and whatnot with an after-school job. When he got on his first ship, the skipper said the radio wasn’t working on-board. He pointed to grandpa and said, “Your file says you have radio experience. Go fix it.” Grandpa didn’t have much of an idea what to do, but he went to look at it. Someone had attached a wrong part and he just twisted it a bit and got it to work. He said that after that, he was pretty much gold. Was promoted two ranks and got a raise!
I don’t think he ever saw combat, but he did have some crazy stories to tell about being on ship.
One night he was on deck and noticed a streak in the water coming straight for the ship. He alerted the Skipper who came over and commented that it was indeed a missile probably fired from a U-Boat. He said it would miss them. They watched it. Watched as it shot straight toward them. Watched as it passed under the ship and went off to the opposing horizon. Watched as it blew up as it came up to the surface. That would be crazy!!
He was on the ship that landed troops on Utah Beach at the invasion of Normandy. He showed us a picture where he and the other guardsmen were walking on the beach right with their ship. The tide had gone out and left a good 100 feet behind their ship stranded on dry land. They had to wait for a few hours for the tide to come back in before they could get back to sea. There was a great shot of him in his uniform, leg propped up in front of him and his elbow bent towards his knee. He looked sharp! And really, that picture looked JUST like my nephew currently serving in the USAF. What a neat thing!
These stories were new to me. I am hopeful that I can learn even more from him before he’s gone. I hope that I can glean more stories from my family history.
Today is Veteran’s Day. I am so grateful for those men in my life who have served in the Armed Forces. Whether they saw combat or not, their sacrifice has determined the freedoms I have in life. If YOU have served, are serving, or have a loved one who served in the military, thank you so much!