The Greatest Generation

Comments 57


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.

Like yours.

The greatest generation.

57 thoughts on “The Greatest Generation”

    1. You’re allowed to get angry.

      It’s a perfectly normal emotion all of us feel.

      And writing is one of the healthiest ways to deal with it.

      Thank you for reading this boring, self-indulgent post.

      It was a meandering mess of wordiness.

  1. I was so very fortunate to grow up spending a lot of time with my grandparents and great grand parents. They all changed my life in some way. A few years ago I caved into my son and parents request to move closer, and I caved because I wanted my son to spend more time with my parents. I wanted him to have that special bond, to look back in years and feel blessed that he got to spend so much time with his grandparents.
    Excellent post. you stirred up some great memories!

    1. It’s a tedious read. I should have pared it down. I don’t have a lot of time to think about this stuff, though. 🙂

      I really appreciate you taking the time to read it. Thank you for making the effort so that your son would know his grandparents. It’s a valuable relationship.

  2. This is honestly one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long time. You’re so fortunate to have come from such a rich and wonderful upbringing, such a beautiful place, such a beautiful family. So much to be thankful for, eh?
    My own upbringing was pretty great and I have an amazing and loving family who’s seen me through so much and who continue to keep me on my feet today. I’m so grateful for this though it does scare me that I sometimes get the feeling the world is trying to tell me to be my own rock as well, because I never have been before – and that’s terrifying.
    Hugs to you.
    I hope every day that passes you’re getting closer to being where you’re supposed to be, and to adjusting to this new life-reset. I hope the same for myself too, as this is the biggest reset I’ve had to face in all of my 30 years…

    1. Thank you very much. I’m glad it mattered to someone.

      This was a very self-centered story.

      I’m incredibly blessed to have the foundation I’ve had.

      And while I’m sad it’s going away, it’s important that I not let it die. That I take what I’ve been given and use it to spread good. To my son. And in any other ways I can.

      We all have an opportunity to do something meaningful in this life.

      I really appreciate your note. Thank you very much.

  3. you’re blessed and your son is blessed for knowing them too. I had lost every single grandparent by the age of 13 and i miss them tremendously. I wonder sometimes if our lives would have been different had my mother’s parents lived. She was kind of broken once they were gone.

    1. Of course it would have. Every great loss and gain shapes us. I’m incredibly sorry you were deprived of so much time with them.

      I knew five of a possible eight great-grandparents. The benefits of both my parents and grandparents having children at a young age.

      I take none of that for granted. We live pretty far away from that area now. So no one sees each other much. But it is wonderful during special occasions when many son and I do see many of them.

      1. that’s a lot of grands and greats hey. i just had 2. I loved my pops. i was always the one that didn’t fit in amongst the cousins and pops would always defend me. he called me his ‘muishond’, lol which means skunk. No idea why he thought it was ok to nickname me skunk. But i love that i remember that and im the only grandchild he did have a nickname for

  4. I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandparents lately, too. I thought this was a beautiful tribute.
    And I hope yours are doing OK. Sending a prayer for them your way….

  5. It’s wonderful that you had those opportunities, Matt. I lost most of my grandparents when I was young, so my memories of them are sketchy, and the one that did stick around wasn’t very kind or loving. I’m often envious of people that had the kind of influences you did as a child, and wonder how it might have changed my life or impacted who I am today. Regardless, it’s great that you have those wonderful memories, and no doubt those lessons will be passed on to your son and subsequent generations. 🙂

  6. My grandparents, the backbone to my life. I can defintely relate to your story. They were the only ones left when my parents split up to. I’m biggest fear is losing them one day. Like you said, it will happen sooner than later..
    Great Blog today!

    1. Thank you, Jenny. I don’t want to suggest that my parents weren’t there for me. But what my grandparents provided was steadiness. Steadiness comes in handy amidst a bunch of change and turmoil.

      As you know.

      I’m glad you have them. They’re important in many, many ways.

      It’s such a miracle and a mathematical anomaly that we’re even here.

      Our grandparents played an enormous role in that. Even if it was nothing more than biological.

      Still a critical piece of the puzzle.

      Amazing. All of it.

    1. Thank you, sir. I didn’t think people would.

      I love the Virtual Bitch Slap. I am pretty nervous about my next whine fest when you’ll feel compelled to dish one out.

  7. This is another wonderful post. I can see where you are coming from when you write what you do. What a wonderful way to grow up – well, I suppose you would have wished to not have to reset — but having such a large family with such wonderful role models makes great people. I’m not sure if you accept it or not, by you touch people with your words–that’s beautiful!

    1. Thank you very much, April.

      I just didn’t think this one would go over very well. I’m so glad it means something to some of you.

      I really appreciate that you feel something and that you cared enough to write something nice.

      I hope you’re having a good day. I appreciate the smile.

      1. You had the childhood I had dreams of. To be able to spend time fishing with my grandpa and spending time with my grandma in the kitchen is a long lost dream that never happened.

        I come from a very much dysfunctional past, with no foundation. I got to where I am today due to stubbornness, and the love of my dad. I followed him everywhere.

        You sound like a great role model for your child. That is something to be proud of.

  8. I find what keeps bringing me back to you is what’s communicated in the spaces Between the words, the gaps Between the lines. You have a way of choosing language that leaves voids so the reader can “fill in the rest so it means something specific to us.” You also have sentences that shimmer. I am going to start singling them out from now on in my comments.

    “The world’s asking me to become my own rock.”

    sparkle, sparkle, sparkle!

    One day, I will get brave enough to post something that doesn’t fit into the “humorous theme” on my own blog. Until then, I’m getting the cathartic cleansing from yours.

    1. Stephanie! What a nice name. Thank you for introducing yourself. Thank you for caring. Thank you for thinking any of this matters.

      It means a lot.

  9. I was fortunate to grow up half a block from one set of grandparents, and to have regular Sunday dinners with the other set. I posted a poem I wrote about one of my grandmothers, but I should write more about all of them. My own father died over twenty years ago, but my kids have been fortunate to have a close relationship with my mom. I think that grandparent relationships are really important.

    1. I’m so sorry you lost your father so early. And that your mom lost her husband. And that your children lost their grandfather.

      It’s unimaginably sad. I’ve seen all of that. It’s awful.

      Thank you so much for saying hi. I’m glad you value the grandparent relationship. It’s beautiful.

  10. Your grandparents… I’m sorry. It’s tough to watch them go through that. You have a rich heritage with wonderful memories that you have chosen to share. I really love this one!

    I have been remembering my ancestors as I am about to sell some of the old farm–how hard they worked so the next generation would have and the part they played in the community. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    1. Thank you for reading. And for saying you understand. And for appreciating your own family for all of the happiness they’ve delivered. 🙂

  11. There’s nothing quite like the big family environment. I have twelve siblings and my oldest son is three years younger than my youngest brother. By the end of this year my parents will have 22 grandkids. Growing up amidst all that chaos, friendship, and love is a pretty amazing experience. I always enjoy it when one of my siblings brings someone they’re dating around for the first time especially if they’re from a small family. The look of shell shock on their faces is priceless.

    You were & are lucky to have so much time with your great grandparents & grand parents.

    1. I love that you know what that big family looks like. And yes. I’m extraordinarily fortunate to have had my upbringing considering I am an only child. 🙂

  12. The truest words come from personal experience – happy or painful. Don’t be apprehensive about self-revelation, Matt, we relate to your words because we all have pieces of your memories which fit into our own lives. Or we wish they did.

    I am one who had great grandparents and grandparents involved in my nurturing. For better or for worse, they were there. Like you, I thank them for the standards, morals and convictions they taught, along with the experiences they shared which held so many life lessons. My own life resets were dealt with on my own. Parental guidance lacked and grandparents gone. Learning to become your own rock is an incredible experience.

    You can do it. You’re well on your way with such expansive resources on which to draw. Good luck and keep writing.

    1. Thank you for reading. For your kind words. For the encouragement. I appreciate very much that you understand. Thank you for saying hi. 🙂

  13. This made me feel emotional in an unexpected way. It was most certainly not tedious. I enjoy the way your descriptions flowed as if every piece of information you were giving us was to be appreciated and maybe even savored ever so slightly.

    1. No tears, please. More than enough sadness to go around. Thank you for caring, though. It’s so nice when people care.

        1. That’s a really interesting observation. I’m going to think about that one for a while.

          But my reaction is still: We get to choose who we are.

          And you may be right. Completely. But that just makes it the responsibility of the aware people to encourage people not to lose themselves in that way.

  14. Matt, I’m glad you indulged yourself with this piece and didn’t back away from publishing.

    I think we give what was given. What your grandparents gave you is apart of you. You’re already giving it, but you won’t be sure until you see it unfold while you’re doing it.

    I’ve seen myself do it and it’s cool. I do it in the middle of being human, meaning while I’m busy making mistakes and learning from them so as not to repeat them and doing everyday stuff, I see myself create things for my kids and nieces, and see them react and I remember myself reacting the same way to the generosity of a grandparent, aunt or uncle. It’s an awesome feeling.

    But it’s hard to feel it as substantial when I’m in the middle of growth/struggle/feeling like a moron.

    This is one of the appeals of your blog, you’re honest about your personal work, most of your readers identify with that, and we usually see where you’re not as bad as you think, and we identify with that too.

    Oh no, I spoke for people…alright, Happy Friday, unless you’re an insomniac, then good evening.

  15. It’s a gift to come here in the morning and get nudged sideways. I’m feeling pretty useless, and you’ve reminded me to breathe. I know that’s not what you said, but it’s what I heard.

    And also, these teachings of your family have also made you a good grandson. It sounds like you might be called to practice that now, too.

    1. You’re kind for saying that. I hope you forgive the times I’m a child, which I may be tomorrow for you. 🙂 I’m not exactly sure where the wind is gonna send me on today’s topic.

      And yes. I must find a way to be a good grandson. And, in turn, a good father to my son who still doesn’t realize how fortunate he is that his great-grandparents are still with is.

      Unfortunately, he just doesn’t see them very often due to geography.

      Thank you for this nice note this morning. 🙂

  16. A sweet post–I was just thinking about my great grandmother yesterday. I like it when that happens, randomly something will remind of her. Those, like yours, are good memories to have and remember from time to time. Thanks!

  17. Oh, the legacy!! How wonderful it is to remember those who made us who we are, and will also play a role in our kids lives as long as we keep their memories alive! What a way to honor your family. The childhood reminiscing…that was so parallel to mine that it was spooky! I did find myself ……CRYING!! Your posts seem to do that . . . allow people to feeeeel. They take you inside, where its warm (or sometimes cold) and okay to be free and true to your own feelings! You are so honest and pure with your words/writing/typing. This was NOT indulgent at all…it was you sharing your life/family/humble beginnings with others, which in turn made us take a trip down memory lane…whether good or bad. It may bring happiness to some and sorrow to others, but its a moment of reflection, which may allow all of us to see how we are better now? Therapeutic blogger….yes, you really are. The irony of that…I know. But, when you open up so freely about everything, and others are able to go there within themselves, that’s healing some brokenness or finding the silver lining, or letting go….it’s awesome. I really hope I can find it in myself to share my truth that way in my posts. Thanks Matt.

    1. One of my favorite comments ever.

      Thank you so much for this. Because I constantly worry about how egotistical it might come off writing stories in the first person.

      It’s really nice to find out it’s not always taken that way. I really appreciate that.

      All I want to do is feel. And help others do the same. I’m always surprised by WHAT makes people feel something, though.

      I’m so grateful for your time and your emotional energy. What a gift.

      I hope you’re having a great weekend.

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Matt Fray

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