I never read Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation. I'm not sure I need to having seen the example set by my mother's parents.
My family lost my grandfather twelve years ago. An only child of the Depression Era, he was always telling stories about when people looked out for their neighbors to help them get through that period. When World War II came around, he served with pride as a Marine in the Pacific.
After the war, he worked as a Bergen County Police Officer, among other jobs, so as to provide for his family. When the organization heard of his passing, they sent a color guard and it meant the world to me because I know how much he loved the job and the honor he felt in serving the community. He gave so much to me and spent so much time together that losing him felt like losing one of my best friends. He adored life, and truly loved my grandmother, Ruth.
My grandmother passed yesterday, and hers was the life so few of those born in the last few years can relate. She left school early, because she was big enough to work and help out at home. When the war came, she went from working in a silk factory to being an inspector in a factory in Patterson, ensuring our planes would fly. We actually took a trip to a museum in Paterson when we were kids and saw a picture of her there. And when the men came back, already married to my grandfather, they began to make their life together.
My grandmother had a quiet confidence about her. The awkwardly tall teenager had grown into a stunning wife, mother and friend to many. Her dedication to service was never lost on any of us. In addition to running her own business for a few years and then working in real estate, when they couldn't give away land in towns like Saddle River, she volunteered for the library, the hospital, her church, worked the polls, and was a faithful Republican of the old type.
When my youngest brother was born, at the age of 60, my grandparents gave all the time they had to us. My grandmother was often the one picking me up on school days when Chris was in and out of the hospital. Nothing was quite as good as the iced tea she'd give you after school out of the pitcher she probably bought when they bought their home.
As I got older, I've realized how important that time was too all of us. Grandma's quiet strength lifted us all. As I got older, I really grew to appreciate her sense of humor and the stories she told. She also had a healthy dose of spunk. For example, when our family took vacations up to New Hampshire, I often rode with my grandparents. Once I was old enough I would drive, and once my grandfather fell asleep she would encourage me to pick up the pace.
In addition to a deep sense of patriotism, my grandma loved New Jersey. We often said she should have worked for the tourism board and the chamber of commerce. She would often give a near dissertation on all the wonderful things our state had to offer, from culture to the rivers, lakes and mountains to the urban and suburban areas and the shore. All within a three hour drive she'd point out.
I also owe quite a bit of my idealism about politics to her and her belief that service of community was the purpose of political office. She was so proud when I got to go to the Republican National Convention in 1996, among the keepsakes I got for her, the magnets are still on her refrigerator. When I decided I was going to run against Representative Scott Garrett, although she wasn't so sure about the Independent thing, she was the first to sign my petition.
Her body has been failing in recent years, however, her mind was never lost. We visited as often as I could make it and it was always filled with spirited conversation about the events of the day, stories of old, and the goings on in my life. Granted, some of our political talk would probably bore other folks, they were great conversations for us.
I may never have read the Greatest Generation, but I've been so very fortunate to learn from them first hand. Even though I know my grandmother is in a better place now, I am going to miss her dearly. She was a wonderful woman, and even after all these years, I feel she had so much more wisdom to impart. I'd like to think she and my grandfather are together sitting in rocking chairs, sipping on some of that iced tea.