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The Legacies We Carry

The beauty of family is even when you don’t live close to someone they can still remain a constant in your life, for me this was the relationship I shared with my grandpa (Norbert, Norbie). When we would get the chance to visit him in Wisconsin he would take us out on his boat to see the sights of Madison, sometimes stopping at a restaurant where he could dock so we could eat fresh fried fish. He helped me buy my first car because he knew my parents couldn’t, even though they wanted to, and that my part time job wasn’t enough, so he stepped in. Every Christmas and birthday he sent me savings bonds and eventually moved to buying me stock shares (A stock, might I add, that has remained very steady to this day). But most importantly, he always found a way to attend every big event in my life though it often meant at least a day’s travel to get from his house to ours.

When I would visit him as I got older the same music I would roll my eyes at in childhood, playing in his car, now became our connecting bond; jazz and the old time crooners became the background music to our happy hours and dinner. We would sing together eating cheese and drinking wine, while I tried to learn how to harmonize with him, something he and my grandma always did as their own ‘party trick’. On my wedding day my grandpa stood up and sang a song to me. We didn’t know he was going to do it, I doubt even he knew, maybe it was the gin, maybe it was the fact that for the first time in a long time so many of his kids were together, regardless, it was the kind of gift you appreciate in the moment but imprints on your soul forever. Maybe he had planned to sing on my wedding day all along because singing was one of the things that bonded us together, whatever the reasoning behind it, it will always serve as a reminder of the beauty in both small moments and grand gestures from the heart.

I was lucky I had my grandpa till he was 93 and I was 33, I got more time than most. The last 10 years or so of his life I didn’t need to be entertained or see the sights on the lake, what I wanted more than anything was to be around him. He had the most amazing tree in his back yard, so when he would sit out on his back patio I sat with him and asked him about his life. As someone who has always enjoyed history I was desperate to learn from a man who was born in to the Great Depression, served in World War II, and LITERALLY traveled the world upon retiring. You cannot get this kind of knowledge and storytelling from google and you cannot understand the kind of wisdom gained experiencing so much of the world and humanity firsthand.

One day we were sitting in his condo, drinking coffee, planning another fabulous wine, cheese, and gin dinner (of course followed by dessert, we shared a love for dessert) for ourselves when I started asking him about World War II. He was a bombardier on a B17 but he never discussed too many specifics about his missions. He was more than happy to talk in general about the war and what he saw but he never gloated in his service, it was his duty, it was that simple for him. On this particular day we discussed how unfortunate it was that hate empowers people. This discussion made him pause for a second, and then he said something that will stick with me forever, “the longer I live, the more I realize nothing really changes at all, the weapons only get bigger.” What a profound truth from a man who had seen so much of humanity in his 90+ years but also a call for change in a world too prone to forget the mistakes of its past.

In his final week I would sit next to him, hold his hand, and say “I love you young fella”. My sister and I would tell him stories we knew would bring him some happiness and everyone would hum a tune or two to try and keep his spirits up. We knew he was facing his final days and we wanted to be there to bring as much joy and peace as we could to him.

The most painful truth is that we will lose everyone we love. But the most beautiful truth is that we get to love and be loved so deeply that we are, in some twisted way, lucky that losing someone makes it that painful, it serves as a reminder of how significant someone was to our life. There are times I think ‘how the hell did I get this lucky to be so deeply loved and raised up by this many amazing people?”, I don’t have the answer. The only thing I have is a knowing that I am a carrier of my grandpa’s lessons of loyalty, reliability, and never ending knowledge. I am also a carrier of Norbert’s legacy, a legacy of a life lived well; full of knowledge and learning, unconditional love for his family and traveling, jazz music and harmonizing, and a lifelong devotion to cheese, gin, and a good dessert.