My maternal grandfather, Stuart Patriquin, served as a Marine in World War II. He returned home, opened a roofing company and became successful enough to live comfortably in a house that would become home to four generations and counting. I would grow up there; my brother would raise his children there; and my nephew and his fiancée live there today.
When I return home, I return to a place that my grandfather built. Yet he didn’t live to see it all. He fell to his death from scaffolding while on a roofing job. I was young, and my recollections of him are fuzzy, but the grief was not. I remember it ripping through our family and feeling, but not understanding, the confusing reverberations.
We don’t always appreciate the importance of our loved ones. Then they die, and the void they’ve left becomes visible and clear. It’s like a boulder has been rolled away from a grassy knoll, the impression its absence has made in the grass more visible than the boulder we saw every day but took for granted.
My grandfather had been that quiet rock. We called him Bamba. He called me Bugaboo and said I had knickerbocker knees. To this day I don’t know what that means except, “I love you.” We kids tumbled along behind him as he worked his vegetable gardens and fruit trees. He always had kids in tow because he was patient with us, kind and funny.
He also always had a Schlitz in hand, and highballs every summer evening by the pool. I didn’t know until much, much later what this meant. I wouldn’t learn until I was an adult that his fall from the scaffolding was probably helped along by the bottle they found crashed with him on the sidewalk.
The members of the Greatest Generation didn’t talk about the things they saw during World War II. They hid the scars the best way they knew how as they raised their families, bought homes, started companies and made impressions on grandkids who would grow to know them only as fuzzy memories.
Memorial Day is our kickoff to summer, but its official purpose is to remember those who gave their lives for us in service to our country. It’s also a time, in my opinion, to remember to thank those who have returned from war and are perhaps daily forgetting the pain of that experience the only way they know how.