Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Grandpa Joe in Memoriam

A couple of weeks ago, my grandfather Joe died. I was waiting to take some of these photo album pictures with my new camera to share. Some I think are really amazing.

This is my great grandfather. He was a Lithuanian Pollack. This is the only picture I have of him. My grandfather never really knew him well and what memories he had of him are unknown to me. This is all because when my grandfather was very young, his father put him on a boat and sent him to a Catholic school in America for a better life. At some point later, I understand they met again, and neither could understand the others language at all.

Grandpa Joe at Catholic school. I think it was in Boston. Now that I think back, it really is sad how little I know about the specifics of his life. We never were really close. He had two sons and a daughter (my mother). My mother was his pride and joy. Before she was born, my grandfather got drunk, walking along a dock in the harbor (I think in Boston), and decided to name my mother "Cara-Lou" after a nearby bar. Fortunately for mom, she was easily able to switch it to Carole.

I can't believe how skinney he is in this picture. Luckilly I didn't get his pecs. Joe was on the U.S.S. New York during WWII. From what I have been told, the New York saw some of the heaviest fighting of any battleship in WWII. That could be my brother bullshitting again though. What I do know is that the New York got kamikaze attacked by surprise. Joe was on the deck when it happened trying to repair something. Someone fired the 20" gun right above his head. It blew his eardrums out and knocked him unconscious. An astute sailor saw Joe and dragged him to safety. He related a story once about how his ship ran out of food and they rationed the crew to the point of starvation. Joe said the hunger he endured was the worst pain of his life. I wouldn't be surprised if this picture was taken soon after that.

I've always thought this picture belongs on the cover of some book or chapter heading about WWII. Joe "Big Dick From Boston" posing on his ship. When I was a kid, Grandpa Joe came to visit and we took him to the U.S.S. Missouri which was stationed at the Bremerton naval shipyard here in Washington. There is a monument on the deck of the ship which marks the exact place where the Japanese leader signed official surrender to the United States. My grandfather cried on that spot and wanted some time alone.

He married my grandmother Dorothy after the war. They stayed together for the rest of his life, raised three kids, spoiled their grandchildren, and had many good times together

I think Joe lived a very full life, and was at peace and ready to go when he did. The slow progression towards death took a toll on my 80 year old grandmother, and was probably somewhat humiliating and demeaning. First the fall and the broken hip, then the pneumonia, then the congestive heart failure with the regular lung drainages, the pneumonia again, and then the nursing home, and then the pneumonia one final time that you just can't shake off. If there is a typical way to die in America this was it.

My lasting memory of Joe was when we were alone together watching the thoroughly depressing movie "Leaving Las Vegas". My grandfather fought and risked his life and gave all he had to save the world. After being victorious, he lived a long life watching the societal corruption develop around him, the fruits of his incredible sacrifice amounting to nothing but another generation of corrupt, wisdomless, gutless, hedonistic, usurping human beings. Saving one generation did nothing at all to save the next. The seed of the greatest generation was not another "Lamarckian style" great generation. It was merely a clean slate with the same old human nature set up to run free and corrupt once more from scratch. So my grandfather sat watching Leaving Las Vegas like the Buddha sat next to the river at the end of Herman Hesse's book "Siddhartha", resigned to his own enlightenment and unable to teach his son anything he struggled so hard to learn himself. Resigned to the eternal insignificance of everything.

We talked about this in mumbles after the depressing as hell movie. He shook his head back and forth and said a few times in a row,

"Nothin' means nothin'.
Ain't nothin' means nothin'."

And I'll never forget it because I know he really meant it.
I didn't agree at the time, and I took it as a sign of his old aged bitterness.

I agree with him now. And I am young, and I am not bitter at all.


upinVermont said...

Those are some great pictures.

In certain ways, we might have been better off before the camera's invention. Time is an exacting but leisurely toll keeper -- the expense of the years can go by almost unnoticed.

But the camera gives the lie.

Better to die ten years too soon, than ten years too late. And better to die laughing than watch some nihilistic movie about a loser in Las Vegas.

By the way, your grandpa's comment would make a great epitaph for the 21rst century tomb stone.

Aaron said...

He was an agnostic. I heard him thinking out loud one time. His son (my uncle) thought that when we died that's it, but Joe had no idea, and I never got the impression he had made any serious exploration into religion and spirituality in his life. Like probably most kids who grew up Catholic, he became an adult with no connection to Catholicism whatsoever apart from the fact that Ave Maria was his favorite song to sing because it brought back memories.