The ambiguities of honor, memory, and love

May 29, 2012

I wrote this on Monday, 29 May 2000. I tend to look at on memorial day.

Thomas Stanford Leonard

This is one of our favorite photos of Grandpop. It lived on Grandmom’s refrigerator until her death.

My grandfather fought in Europe as a paratrooper during WWII. Like many of his generation, his life was strongly tinted by that fact—being a veteran was a core feature of his identity.

I’m not a militaristic sort, and never have been. Although the fact of my grandfather’s service was a defining aspect of my childhood’s world, I never felt the slightest pressure toward any form of military activity. My mother’s eldest brother did use a peacetime tour of Germany to “straighten himself out” (another defining aspect), but that was an anomalous case, both for him, and for the rest of us.

Much of my knowledge of the inner self of my grandfather is, in fact, knowledge of my mother, and what she believes and feels about him. It is, perhaps, a pointless endeavor to try to discern how much of my loyalty and love for him is in fact loyalty and love for her. But this is the proper way of family, I think: to be entangled in a net of ourselves and of others that we knotted to capture our childhood confusions about the world.

My grandfather is dead, now, though he is still a veteran. He did get to read this poem and appreciate that I wrote it:

Jumping from airplanes

There is this strange little man,
well, he’s not all that little,
and I remember a time when he was big enough
to scare me with his shadow—
but I’m the one who’s changed.
I guess I’m big enough now
to scare with my shadow.

The strange man, well, he’s not all that strange.
He’s a little quiet, soft-spoken for the most part
except for the times when I was little
when he’d give out a peculiar kind of bellow
which didn’t frighten me until my
cousins told me it should.

Actually, this man is stranger than I let on,
he used to jump out of airplanes
so that he could run around snowy fields
avoiding being killed, and maybe killing
somebody who looked at lot like him,
but hadn’t jumped out of an airplane.

My mother tells me that he loved it,
that is, the jumping out of airplanes part.
Even though they were shooting
he got a real kick out of jumping
and (if he was lucky) plummeting slowly
to the ground.

My mother tells me about this funny little man
who would still jump, she tells me,
if only he wasn’t so old
if only he wasn’t going blind
if only there was a way that
people wouldn’t shoot at him.
(The last part I added, I wouldn’t
want him to get shot at again.)

My mother tells me about this funny little man
who is her father, who jumped out of airplanes
so he could kill people who spoke the same
language her grandmother spoke.
I don’t think he’s jumped since.

He’s very soft-spoken, though he doesn’t like to be bothered.
Small children are cute, but often noisy.
He can be kinda gruff, kinda meek, kinda quiet,
but, boy, he did jump from airplanes.
That must mean something.

2 Responses to “The ambiguities of honor, memory, and love”

  1. Nemo Says:

    Nice.


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