Forever 25

I named my son for a man I never met. A man who hardly seems real to me, but my existence is proof of his. He spent only 25 years on this earth, but today he is a grandfather of four, and a great-grandfather of three, with a namesake nearly three weeks old.

I’m talking about my mother’s father. My maternal grandfather, born in 1934, died of cancer in 1959, leaving behind a wife and two daughters. His youngest daughter, my mother, was a year old and does not remember him.

And yet he is now a great-grandfather. It is strange to think that, because when a person dies young, it gets harder to imagine them older – especially if you never knew them. My grandfather is forever 25 years old. Oh, I have some idea of how he might have looked if he had lived – he had three brothers who are all still living, and the family resemblance is strong. So strong, in fact, that I even carry some of his features – most notably, his chin. My mother has his eyes, so we are told. And the Munchkin has both his chin and his eyes, which are exactly the color of my mother’s. And Baby Boy, at three weeks old, already has that same clefted chin that we can trace back in photographs to this man, and that side of the family.

The strange thing is, he didn’t seem real to me for years. I knew that he once lived, like I realized that historical figures like Washington and Lincoln once lived. But my own grandfather seemed as far off and remote as they did. My mother has no memory of him, so all of her stories about him are secondhand. And while pictures of him were visible, there wasn’t much said – for many reasons.

So it was with great interest that I viewed his junior and senior yearbooks yesterday. My grandmother had brought them over to my parents’ house, and I was over there as well – she hadn’t seen her great-grandson since he was born, and I had eBay china to deliver to her. So I took a look at the yearbooks from 1951 and 1952. I read some of the things written by his classmates – one wishing him luck with his “girl from Conrad.” That girl was my grandmother. I read his class prophecy (he would become known as the “Little Mad Professor” and have invented a fast-drying ink that dried before you could fill your pen with it), and his senior will (he left his love of metal shop to another student). I looked at the junior year picture – a copy of which my grandmother carried around as a teenager. His senior picture, which displays his ears a little too much, was not nearly as flattering. I also saw what my grandmother had later added – notations that two men from his graduating class later served as pallbearers at his funeral.

My grandmother also gave me something that she means for me to give to my son someday – a book of poetry, given to my grandfather as a wedding gift by his high school English teacher. He was a good student, and graduated early in order to join the Navy. My grandmother told me how pleased she was that my son was named for him.

I wish I had known him. I know he was smart, had a good sense of humor and could think on his feet, played the French horn in both high school and the Navy, was kind to children and loved his own very much. I wish I had my own memories to tell my son. I wish my mother did. I promised myself that I would learn what I could, so when my son does ask about this young man who became his great-grandfather, I’ll have something to tell him.

Even though there is a lot of reflection and somberness in this post, it does have a happy ending. I will get to meet my grandfather someday. My mother will get to spend time with the father she doesn’t remember. We live with the promise of eternal life – and getting to see and share it with those who have gone before. I think we will all be surprised when those days come, and I can’t imagine what a heavenly family reunion looks like.

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