Seventy years ago today my grandfather and tens of thousands of other soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy, France.
My grandfather, Ray, survived Omaha Beach, was honorably discharged from the Army, then came home, married my grandmother, and raised his family. His daughters grew up, married and had children of their own – five granddaughters. Ray believed in duty and hard work. He believed in taking and owning responsibility for his decisions, his life, and that’s what he taught his children.
Ray also believed in living the life he had to the fullest. He loved my grandmother, the woman he called “chicken” (we still don’t know why!), and their life together was real. I remember laughter from my childhood, love and giant hugs. I have a storage bin filled with photographs showcasing their life together with friends and family. Their house was always filled with people. They seemed to live the maxim, “the more, the merrier.” My grandparents were not afraid to entertain; it seemed a way of life for them, and it was not uncommon to have dozens of people – aside from the multitude of family members – filling the house at any time.
My mother is Ray’s daughter. Although she came of age during the sixties and seventies and in her chest beats the secret heart of a free spirit, she still believes in responsibility and hard work. She believes in taking and owning responsibility for her decisions and her life. She taught my sister and me to believe in those same things. We learned early in life that we were responsible for our successes and failures and that if we wanted to be successful, we had to work hard; it was expected of us. We learned early in life that we weren’t better than anybody else, and we weren’t going to be handed a beautiful life on a silver platter.
I learned from my grandparents and my mother to be truthful, even blunt, but never malicious. I grew up understanding that if I wouldn’t say it to somebody’s face, I shouldn’t say it. There are people who might not like what I say, but even if what I say may offend sensibilities, I don’t open my mouth unless I would say it to them across the table. Often what offends most is the truth because some people just can’t handle hearing the truth about themselves.
My grandfather did not suffer fools, and I have no use for them, either. Like Ray, I have no use for people who try to hitch a ride on the back of somebody else who works hard. Like him, I believe in hard work and personal responsibility. I believe in surrounding myself with good people. When you have good people around you, the positive energy feeds into itself and affects the whole group dynamic. I learned from him that when you have to deal with not-so-good people, try to be gracious, and if that’s not possible because they’re just so negative, you can always fall back on the truth.
What my grandfather handed down sounds like a cliche, but it’s true nevertheless. Work hard, play hard, love well, and laugh often. He did those things and left his family richer for it. Although every day is a work in progress, I’ve largely created the life I wanted from the time I was a child: a life filled with laughter and love, work of which I can be proud, and good friends with whom I can smile. I try to honor my grandfather’s memory with my actions, and when I know he wouldn’t be proud of me, I feel sad and disappointed in myself.
I’m immeasurably grateful to all of the troops who fought and sacrificed on June 6, 1944 and on so many other days. My Grampy died over 27 years ago. I miss him every day, and I am so proud to be his granddaughter.