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The Stories Before Our Stories

My grandmother passed away today after a long fight.

I would visit her and my grandfather when in college, and for whatever reason, I got smart and each time I went to see them, I asked them to tell me a story about themselves, their parents, and what it was like to be them.

This week, I'll be recounting those stories here, taking them out of the paper journals that have held them captive these last few years, and putting them hear for all to see. I encourage you to do the same. As Bruce Northam says, "When grandparents die, libraries burn."

January 24, 2003

I've been watching the miniseries "Band of Brothers" this past month and have been very inspired by the stories of heroic acts during World War II.

I had known that my great-grandfather was a motorcycle messenger during the first world war, but I wanted to know more about him. So I asked Nana.

As we watched TV tonight (Nana stays on the couch mostly, on account of her worsening arthritis), Nana was commenting on the current state of things in Iraq and asking about the prospect of me volunteering to go fight over there. I promptly told her no and that she had nothing to worry about.

She then told me that right after the Pearl Harbor attacks, my great-grandfather went down to the Army recruiting office, wanting to enlist. He was 50 years old. When he was told that he was too old, he asked if there was any other way he could be of service.

Nana smiled as she told that story. She ended it with: "I learned patriotism at my father's knee."

I heard that story just as things in Iraq were kicking off, and it seemed like a good idea at the time for us to invade. Nana felt the spirit of her father alive in her at that time, feeling that some people should go and volunteer to fight a just war (in her mind) just as he did so many years earlier.

As I visited Nana since the Iraq war began, she grew increasingly displeased with the loss of life there. She grew disappointed with the American leadership of the war.

But that night, I was proud of my great-grandfather, even though I knew very little about him. Ever since I heard that story and patriotism so defined, I continue to ask myself, "What does it mean to be a good American?"

My forefathers and mothers were ones. I hope I can be one as well, which for me means not fighting.

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