It’s no secret that I adored my Grandparents; so did the rest of their children, grand-children, great-grandchildren, their friends and community. It’s no secret the respect and admiration we have as a family & nation for the Greatest Generation. Their's was the generation who willingly and eagerly sacrificed themselves to fight in a violent and bloody war halfway across the world because it meant securing a safe and democratic future for their children and grandchildren. Their generation changed gender roles permanently when women left their domestic jobs to join the ranks of Rosie the Riveter and build airplanes and weapons. They didn’t have cell phones or computers or skype or face-time to keep in touch with each other; they had faith and grit. They got up every day and did what they had to do because, well, because they took responsibility for themselves.
When I went back through the list of memories contained in that small round wooden box I was struck by what each one really showed about Delbert and Mary Jean. The sacrifices their generation made during those five years of war were valiant and noble but it is how they lived their lives during the ensuing years that truly defines why we call them great and why these two people in particular have so completely and definitively made the lives of their family and the lives of everyone they came into contact with better. I know today is Delbert’s funeral but it is so hard to talk about him without her. They were partners. They complimented and mirrored each other. They forged a future out of poverty, sickness, & trauma together….but also out of unconditional love, commitment, laughter, understanding and support.
The small pieces of paper in the memory box included statements like : “I remember when I got really sick and you pulled me into your bed and held me close”, “I remember you supporting me in all situations”. The box held snippets such as ‘I remember Grandpa tying his shoes with one hand and finally realizing how hard it must have been to live life with only one hand” and “I remember when Grandpa told me to eat nicely or he’d make me eat out back with the dogs”.
Because of these things, I knew and felt deeply that I was never alone. There has always been this belief that physical challenges are to be met head on with fierce determination – that value was ingrained in me because of this man. I also learned to be grateful when someone offers help. I was taught to always repay a debt or kindness but to never, ever expect that in return when we were the one helping another person. I learned to use manners and always remember my Grandparents carrying themselves with class and polish.
Memories of “grandpa teaching me to use the lawn mower” and “grandpa asking me to help change the oil” taught me that being a girl didn’t make me weak but that I was equal in all ways. I cherished the times when my hands became greasy and my jeans dusty from dirt when I was outside working with him.
I discovered additional memories in that box, including “I remember eating dinner with both of you every night” and “I remember you never fighting or raising your voices in front of me”. And the most important memory of all was this: “I remember always feeling like you really did want and love me and I was and am so very grateful”.
You see, this generation valued family above all else. It is why they fought and died, why they sacrificed and gave, it is why they came home and never looked back. They understood that life is such a precious gift, something they never took for granted. They spent all of their time together, they embraced their children and grandchildren and not only loved them but enjoyed them and spent time with them. They hated it when family members quarreled and stated on many occasions that when they were both gone they wanted their family to remain close. Today, family squabbles seem petty and un-important in light of this devastating permanent loss.
My mother, children, aunts and cousins are hurting deeply because saying goodbye is so difficult. We know he is happy and exactly where he has wanted to be for over four years; we know that the pain we are feeling is for ourselves and not for him. But you see, our relationships with Delbert and Mary Jean were deep and close. Each one of us carries such intensely personal and life-shaping memories that it is hard to fully explain how intricately Delbert and Mary Jean impacted our lives.
They were the greatest generation. They are responsible for many of our best personal qualities. When we are kind, tolerant, forgiving, honest, hard working, humble, and grateful we are, in fact, living evidence of Delbert and Mary Jean’s legacy. We are products of the Greatest Generation.
I encourage each of you here today to make a commitment to wake up every morning and to honor our Grandfather’s memory or the memory of your own parents, grandparents, or other important influences in your life, by being the best person you can be and by always keeping things in perspective. I know that when life throws a curveball at me, I’m going to ask these questions to help me get through it: “compared to what they went through is it really that difficult and “what would Grandpa do?”
If we do this he can always live through us and maybe through our children and their children as we pass down those values. And then, when we see him again someday as I believe I will, I expect him to say “I’m so proud of you.” Mary Jean will be by his side saying “welcome home”.