A few weeks ago I traveled back to Boston and Florida to visit the old people in my life. My goal was to interview them, learn their stories and capture the past on paper.
I spent several days taking notes and prodding into their personal lives with questions like: tell me about being pregnant, what first attracted you to Nana, and what was it like to dig your fox hole every night in WWII? The visit confirmed that I am the spawn of some truly hard-working, hard-nosed New Englanders. I come from a long line of laborers and romantics. And I guess that comes as no surprise.
Over the past year I have filled out several applications asking me to submit personal information for university record keeping purposes. Somehow, white, female, and Protestant doesn’t quite capture who I am and how I define myself. Personally, I believe which team you cheer for in baseball tells more about who you are than your religion. But no one ever asks that question. White and Protestant doesn’t tell schools anything about who my family is or where they came from. So I guess I feel compelled to do so now.
Both of my grandfathers were poor growing up. One – the son of Italian immigrants – rolled bags of manure through the streets with his brothers and collected coal chips from outside the local power plant in order to keep warm during the frigid Boston winters. The other was abandoned by his mother in Nebraska. He came home from school during lunch every day to sell fresh bread his grandmother baked so the family could survive.
Both grandfathers served in WW II. One used the GI Bill to go to college and became a child psychologist, the other worked as a machinist at a ship yard in Quincy. If you are ever on board the USS Massachusetts, look inside the bell. You will find the name of my grandfather Louis inscribed there.
My Nana Dot cooked clams and pulled candy and stuffed newspapers almost her entire life. She bought her own Buick that my Grampa Mac taught her to drive and never listened to anybody but Jesus. She married a Catholic even though she was a Protestant because she said she liked the guy and her religion didn’t say anything about it. “I’m a Christian,” she said. “You got to look at a person as a human being – not their religion.” And that was that.
My Nana Lois followed a boy into the Navy and was sent 3,000 miles in the other direction. She met my grandfather in San Diego. He brought her someone else’s candy and stole her heart in the process. They married in a small chapel where there isn’t a whole lot of room for anyone else besides the happy couple, a handful of guests and God. That seems about right to me.
Editor’s note: These are photos from my recent trip home. Meet my Boston grandparents. http://www.flickr.com/photos/kmunsey/sets/72157615569501601/