Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

Boston's World War II Memorial

I grew up in a storytelling family. 

I think if you did too, you’ll understand just how near and dear to your heart those stories can become. Though my heritage is mostly French Canadian, the eighth of me that hails from Ireland understands that some of those tales had – and still have – more than a touch of the Irish in them. 

Those stories evolved over time. They became a little bit more exaggerated and, in some cases, they became a bit more irreverent, but they have always been played for the memory and a laugh.

Sometimes there is far more truth in the emotional reaction you’ll have to an exaggerated story than can be found in a more precise and detailed account. Think of it this way: a joke that gets overly technical or too detailed loses its humor. It’s the same with family history – fudging the details a bit allows your family to preserve the experience.

But what do you do when you have nothing to go on?

This is the dilemma that I face on both Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.

Both of my grandfathers served in World War II, and my family has a few items to the effect: a folded American flag, two discharge forms, and a picture or two.

What we lack is everything else. We have no letters, no exchanges, no correspondence. In other words, we have no story. And though I would like to know, I know that I don’t have to.

I don’t think this is uncommon. For many families out there, World War II was an era of great impact – one that shaped families dramatically and immediately. And there are parts of it that many families decided they didn’t want to define their narrative. Perhaps the best definitions of my grandfathers are the ones that they chose for themselves: their families, their homes, their work, and every story they chose to tell and re-tell.

With that in mind, I certainly have my own imagination and a few clues to go on, but my grandfathers’ legacies are those of everyone remembered today – not only what they did in their service, but what came of their service: the lives we lead now and the stories we tell to define them.

Happy Memorial Day, and thank you to all service members past and present.

Til next time!

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