After my parents came back to the house to tell me which one of them I was going to live with, everything’s a little fuzzy.
I just know the judge picked mom.
So, I said bye to dad—see you in several months!—and mom drove four-year-old me 500 miles east to her parents’ house back in Ohio.
I have memory flashes of sleeping and bathing at my grandparents. We lived there for a while. Celebrated my fifth birthday there.
My first life-reset.
My grandparents lived on a 43-arce farm in the Ohio countryside. A big, white farmhouse with black shutters.
A huge concrete porch where I spent countless hours playing. Barbecuing with my grandfather. Staring at the majesty of the vast night sky.
A red barn. Where I was chased by angry chickens. Where I would sometimes sneak into the hayloft to read books. Where I killed, cleaned and filleted untold numbers of fish caught by my grandpa and I.
Huge grassy expanses for unlimited running. Fields full of arrowheads and exotic-looking rocks to be found after the soil had been tilled. Tall maple trees I used to climb.
There were pear trees. Cherry trees. Apple trees. They attracted bees.
I was never afraid of them.
The flower beds were full of some of the biggest spiders I’d ever seen.
I was never afraid of them, either.
The surrounding fields and forest, highlighted by a gorgeous fishing pond and a one-room, non-plumbed cabin with a picturesque weeping willow tree represented my playground.
My new home.
Even when we didn’t live there, we lived there.
I spent more weekends there than not throughout my childhood.
That was a good thing.
My grandfather owned a mom-and-pop furniture and flooring store in the small town. A business started by my great-grandfather.
My grandparents have eight children.
My mother is the eldest of them. I am the first grandchild by several years. My mom’s youngest sister is only four years older than me.
What that means is I grew up in a big-family environment even though I am an only child.
Salt-of-the-earth kind of people. Barbecue chicken and hamburgers on summer nights. Fish frys. Chicken and dumplings. Hot dog and marshmallow roasting over an open fire.
These are the people who showed me how to love.
These are the people who taught me about family.
These are the people most responsible for me being whoever and whatever I am today.
My grandfather included me on his fishing trips. On his excursions to watch his beloved local high school football team vie for state championships. Running errands on the farm.
He taught me patience when the fish weren’t biting.
He showed me what it looks like to handle a life where so many people are pulling you in so many directions.
He has been a loving and faithful husband for the better part of 60 years.
As a child, I got lost two times.
Once, when I ran off to go see Santa at a relatively large shopping mall during the holiday shopping season when my mom wasn’t looking.
The police found me.
The second time, when I wandered off into the woods in search of a large waterfall like one I’d seen in a book or on television.
That time, my grandfather found me.
My grandmother often included me on trips to see her parents—my great-grandparents—about 45 minutes away.
My great-grandfather was a chess champion. And a very kind and gentle man. I can’t remember one visit where he didn’t do something very gentlemanly toward my great-grandmother. He ALWAYS helped her with her coat.
His funeral was my first experience with a family member passing with whom I was very close.
My great-grandmother could run in her 90s. Not, like, jogging. But I remember seeing her run from a doorway to a car in the rain. Things like that. One of the most-amazing women to ever live. She always had cookies. Always. Cookies.
Thick German accent.
My great-grandparents were so magnificent, it stands to reason that my grandmother would turn out so wonderful.
And that’s what she is.
I’ve shared many afternoons with just her.
We used to play Yahtzee and Boggle together. Boggle is one of the games that helped me find my love of words.
She hopped a plane with me on my first flight to visit my dad, once everyone decided me flying back and forth made more sense than driving back and forth.
Despite her unhealthy crush on Liam Neeson, my grandmother is a picture-perfect model of love, patience and forgiveness. For her husband of nearly 60 years. For her eight children. For her 19 grandchildren.
My grandmother had another surgery on Tuesday. Her legs are in bad shape after they were run over by a car.
While she was still knocked out from the surgery, my grandfather, who has had open-heart surgery twice, was admitted to the hospital due to chest pains.
Apparently his heart is only operating at about 20-25 percent. Every day we have him is a blessing at this point, mom says.
The Greatest Generation
Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw coined the term “The Greatest Generation” to describe Americans born during The Great Depression who grew up in poverty, and then went on to fight, or contribute in some way to the war effort during World War II. My mom’s parents just missed the window, born just a few years after the generally accepted span between about 1914-1929.
I’m not going to get in the business of ranking generations of people.
We are all dealt the hands we’re dealt. We have no control when or where or to whom we are born. Whatever that reality is represents our individual “normal.”
Some people never knew a life with electricity and running water.
Others will never know a life without iPhones and self-parking automobiles.
Every generation’s job is to do the best they can with the resources available to them. So that the next generation can do the same.
There is a lot of neglect and apathy in this world. But I sure do see a lot of people choosing good. Choosing the harder path for their children and future generations.
More than a century ago, my great-grandparents were like me. They gave life to my grandmother. Who gave life to my mother. Who gave life to me. Who gave life to my son.
And maybe he will give life to my grandchild someday.
Everything is gone.
Youth. The time together. The big-family environment. My great-grandparents. The farm. The fishing trips.
Innocence is gone.
But everything is not lost. The stuff that really matters tends to stick.
That stuff that lives inside us.
In our memories. And stories. In our personalities.
In our ability to love. To share. To connect. To be generous. Charitable. Forgiving. Hopeful.
It won’t be long now. Until I have to say goodbye to them.
Maybe this year. Maybe in a few years. But not long now.
The people responsible for getting me through my first life-reset after my parents’ divorce.
And now I’m going through life-reset No. 2.
My own divorce.
And everything’s mixed-up. Inside-out.
There’s no rock anymore. Nothing steady to lean on.
The world’s asking me to become my own rock. So I can be a good father. A good son. A good friend. And someday, a good partner.
The world’s asking all of us to do that as we slowly lose everything on which we once relied.
So we get strong. Because we must.
And we hold one another up.
We do it for ourselves and each other. And we do it for our children.
Because our ancestors mattered.
They gave you your grandparents.
And they gave you your parents.
And they gave you yourself and an opportunity to do something great.
Maybe that’s some great big thing that everyone’s going to see and hear about in our media-saturated world.
Or maybe it’s not.
Maybe it’s just making the world a better place.
Maybe it’s just raising a child who will bring a child into the world who will bring a child into the world who a hundred years from now will change the world.
Maybe that’s why you’re here.
Maybe that’s why I’m here.
Like my grandparents.
The greatest generation.