I have wonderful memories of times spent with my grandchildren, visits soon after they were born, and then in following years during holidays and vacations. I especially delighted in any opportunities to travel with them.
Barbara asked me to take her horseback riding in Yosemite, and we had a wonderful trip. Afterwards, two men from Europe camping in the next tent over spent the evening talking with us. They wanted to share a bottle of wine, but I wouldn’t let her have any, because she was still too young. When she was older, I flew to Germany to spend time with her and her husband Andrew and their new baby Christina, while Andrew was stationed there at a U.S. Air Force base. Her brother, my grandson Lee II (“Ben”) also joined us.
Ben and I decided to take time off together and go tour Italy. In Venice, he helped the other men lift a car up out of the road onto the sidewalk, so our tour bus could get around a sharp corner. Traffic in Venice has always been crazy! And Ben took over from me to drive our rental car on the Autostrada, braving the dangerously speeding vehicles. At an Italian restaurant, I managed to thoroughly embarrass him by grabbing the tambourine from one of the musicians so I could go up on the dance floor and properly perform the Tarantella to their music.
I met up with Faith in Morocco, where she was studying at University to earn her Masters Degree in Foreign Relations. Years later, I overcame my new aversion to flying in order to be able to attend her three-day Steampunk wedding festivities with Tim in Boulder, Colorado. After the 9/11 terrorist attack, airport security officials inexplicably seemed to believe that this great-grandmother might be another terrorist, and on three different occasions intently checked out me and my baggage, while daughter Holly stood and watched amazed.
When Seth was twelve, I took him to that year’s week-long Music and Dance Camp in Mendocino with me, and he practiced learning the Balkan goat-skin bagpipe. I visited him in Stuttgart, Germany, when he was thirteen, and again when he was sixteen, studying as an exchange student. One evening during Oktoberfest, Seth pretended to fall asleep on my shoulder because he was afraid I would get up from the table and dance to the music!
One of the most important times was when I took my teenage grandchildren on a two-week historical tour of the East Coast. Seth, the oldest, was 16 at that time. We started at a Quaker Village in New Hampshire, drove south through Plymouth, visited the first atomic submarine in Mystic, Connecticut, then Manhattan, where the most important experience was the Hard Rock Cafe, and then on to Washington, D.C.
While we were In D.C. we went through the White House, visited Congress in session, the Smithsonian Museum and the like, but this story revolves around the Vietnam Memorial. There was this beautiful long black marble wall on which were inscribed the names of thousands of men and women who had been killed in that war. At each end of the wall was a book, easily available to thumb through, wherein the names on the wall were in alphabetical order along with the information of where their name was placed.
Flashback to September 1942 Berkeley, California:
While I was working at the Radiation Lab in Berkeley, I had a colleague as a roommate. She was a wonderful young woman who had married a man who had been born and raised in Germany, then immigrated to the US, become a citizen, and when the war broke out joined the US Army. He was immediately transferred to the European theater, leaving his bride, Marie, alone in California. Marie and I became close friends, and kept the relationship going with letters, visits, and phone calls. That is for about 20 years.
Then, during the Vietnam war she wrote me a letter. Her only son had been killed in Vietnam. I felt devastated.
So here I was, two decades later, looking at the Vietnam War Memorial with six of my grandchildren. We looked in the book, found the name and location of Marie’s son, and located it on the Memorial. I had Seth and Ben stand there, each pointing to Paul’s name, and took a photo, ostensibly to send to Marie.
After returning home and getting the films developed, I looked at that picture. Guilt feelings overwhelmed me. How could I send that picture to Marie, showing my two beautiful grandsons pointing to the name of her son indicating how he had died for our country at an age too young for him to give her grandchildren?
To this day I have not been able to assuage the pain.