Neither Hero Nor Saint

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31 Responses

  1. lime says:

    yes, we do have some sort of odd connection going on…

    we were fortunate in that my grandfather’s drinking did not lead to fits of violent rage. but i’ve heard the tales of children finding him passed out in the snow and the women he chased…and the fits of rage and then withdrawal my grandmother showed in her frustration….neither hero, nor saint is quite right. just people who served when called and who were indelibly marked by service.

  2. That Chick Over There says:

    Amazing. Really.

    Just…amazing.

  3. JohnnyC says:

    Your family pieces work me over Joce.

    In this is a cost of war that never makes the balance sheet.

    As the kid of a Vietnam vet my childhood reverberated with a similar echo of the battlefield. I fear and feel for the kids and grandkids of those returning from Iraq. You can take the boy out of the war, but you can’t take the war out of the boy.

    Thanks for a fitting memorial on this day.

  4. Christy says:

    Holy CRAP. This was some of the best writing I’ve read in a long, long time. Filled with honesty without being emotionally crippled. We forget that these “heroes” of our military service are just fallible men & women who, many times, had the repercussions of war haunt them and their families for the rest of their lives. And that it continues to reverberate through the generations.
    Thank you for sharing this. While I thank your grandfather for his service, my prayers will be that your grandmother & their children would finally have peace & freedom from the terror they lived.

  5. Theresa says:

    Wow, that is some story. I think your grandmother is the one who should be honored on Memorial Day.

  6. Lone Grey Squirrel says:

    How much did the war affect your grandfather, I wonder. Sometimes we have to love the person even if we hate some of the things he did. The photos of you with him seem like ones of love and trust.

  7. Diana says:

    I guess that’s so much of life, isn’t it? The good with the bad. I’m glad your childhood memories of him were of love and fun, I’m heartbroken that those of his wife and children were the opposite. My paternal grandfather, while not reaching the same level of abuser that your grandfather did, was not the nicest of men. Then he had a heart attack and turned his life around, becoming someone very beloved to us all. Thanks for writing this. It was truly well done.

  8. yinyang says:

    I’m not a fan of the word hero. Thus, this is perhaps my favorite Memorial Day blog yet. In an odd way, it’s fitting, too.

  9. Glamourpuss says:

    The whole catastrophe, eh?

    Your honesty is lush and refreshing. Thank you.

    Puss

  10. frannie says:

    very powerful story….

  11. Voyager says:

    Powerful writing. I wonder that more men of war don’t come home to be abusers and beaters. After all, they have been taught as soldiers that violence is a solution.
    V.

  12. heartinsanfrancisco says:

    This gave me goose bumps, Jocelyn, for its stark honesty and beauty.

    I admire your writing so much, and in this piece, the fact that you never substitute sentimentality for sentiment.

    War marks all who go, and who stay behind. Nobody really survives it intact, sad to say. But I’m glad that you at least have loving memories of your grandfather.

  13. CS says:

    I have known many men who made much better grandfathers than fathers, who were able to somehow put aside their violence for that new generation. And so it makes sense to me that you can remember him with affection while still recognizing the brutal side of him. The saddest part of the story for me was the image of your mother’s neighbor’s deliberately choosing to ignore her need. The reading of it left me chilled.

  14. Lee says:

    War is a dangerous nursemaid. I’ve always wondered how men come back home after having been brainwashed into killing machines. Maybe both personalities inhabit the being.

    Thank you for sharing such a personal memory.

  15. J says:

    Good for you. I think we’re not truly remembering anyone if we’re picking and choosing which sides to remember.

  16. My Reflecting Pool says:

    what a powerful story. Its good he mellowed. I feel that a grandparent redeems themselves a little through their grandchildren. You can’t be all bad when someone cares about you. It may sound naive, but, I believe it.

  17. Infinitesimal says:

    wow, that’s quite an essay.

    i just tell the tale of a great grandmother that was never mine, or anybody else’s

  18. choochoo says:

    I’m with Jazz. Wow.

  19. Dan says:

    Sounds like your grandfather did good things as well as bad things, had good qualities as well as bad.

    In fact, it sounds like he was a human being. 🙂

    Nice post Joc.

  20. Mike M says:

    Great read. I will be back for more -0-0-

  21. Wizened Wizard says:

    Such a heartfelt and clear-eyed view of your grandfather.

    Was it the war, or did the war just legitimize his violence? (You mention him throwing the typewriter at age 16).

    I once conducted an interview for an electronics assembly job with a gentle, well-dressed (a button-down shirt and vest compared to others who came in T-shirts and dirty jeans), intelligent man. At the end of the interview I asked if he had any questions, to which he replied, “Could I leave if I have to?”

    Questioning what he meant, I learned that “if someone got hurt, if there was blood, could I leave?” was his concern. My mind did a quick age calculation and put him in Vietnam in his late teens.

    He had recently worked in a grocery store as a bagger – despite his 4-year degree in physics – but that job had ended abruptly. I later learned that his duties in Vietnam included picking up body parts and putting them in body bags. As he thrust food into a grocery bag his mind suddenly saw bloody flesh and he began screaming.

    The point of this story is that you can take the gentlest person in the world, expose him to the hell that is war, and forever doom him to a life of emotions and memories that he can not control. And if that is so, how will a person with angry or violent tendencies play out his lifetime?

    Your story is moving and I thank you for sharing it.

  22. velvet girl says:

    This was a very moving and affecting story. That’s all that I can really put into words. Well done.

  23. jen says:

    there are many ways to honor. seeing the good from the bad and honoring still is one very good way.

  24. Top cat says:

    jocelyn this is a wonderful post.
    Thank you for writing about your grandfather and your memories.
    We never know if this temper was borne out of the ugliness and horror of witnessing unimaginable things.
    tc

  25. Karen says:

    I know that neither of my grandfathers were angels – maternal side: alcoholic and abusive; paternal: distant, unaffectionate (except for the grandkids) and racist. My childhood memories (before the teen years) are filled with laughter, helping out in grampie’s greenhouse, calling granddad an old fart (I was the young fart) and teasing him about his man boobs (hormones due to an illness). As I got older, I started to see them for how they were around other people and it was shocking.

    I know the truth about each of them and that they weren’t perfect. However, in those happy childhood memories…they were to me.

    I’m sorry that your mother and her siblings (and as a result, you and your generation of the family) had to experience this. However, I look at the three generations on my father’s side. My father, although he inherited a lack of patience and emotional detachment, is a better man than his father. My brother, in turn, has more patience, is more affectionate with his own children and has become a better man than our father. I’m hoping that by the time he has grandkids, that generation perhaps might be perfect. 🙂

  26. Malnurtured Snay says:

    He doesn’t LOOK like the typewriter throwing type …

  27. urban-urchin says:

    Once again you blow me away with your writing. Brava.

  28. Dorky Dad says:

    OK, you win for the best Memorial Day post. I don’t have an official award, but you win nevertheless.

    People are complex beings. Actually, your grandfather’s tendencies remind me of my wife’s grandmother — who had similar violent outbursts in her younger years, but really softened up to her grandchildren. Then again, she didn’t drink whiskey.

  29. mcewen says:

    You’re certainly right about the complexity [can’t find an email, so I’ll just say thanks]
    thanks

  30. Mother of Invention says:

    He is certainly a strongly defined man in your memory. I am so sorry for your mom, sisters and their mom for what they had to endure..but I suppose it wasn’t uncommon in those days and neither was the response of the neighbours.

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