Thursday, April 10, 2008
The Jaunty Hat and the Bootstraps
I am ashamed at my lack of history. Even the history of my own blood. The designated historian in my father's family is my great-aunt Audrey, and since i don't have her email address, somehow i feel unable to reach her, to press her for answers to my most pressing questions about the family tree. Maybe that is another reason i write this -- to give my daughter a ready-made herstory lesson. My serious lack of familial history can be extrapolated into my generation's general lack of history all together. We forget what came before, and that makes us all sniveling, entitled bastards.
What i remember about my namesake -- Grandpa Ray -- is spotty. There are pictures of him around my grandma's house, and my parents', of him always smiling, his brimmed hat tipped to the side in the most jaunty manner. I pay tribute when i wear my sparkly brown beanie with the brim, out on the town. Now this is a man who was never what one would call a successful businessman. A hard worker, a dutiful father, twice a war veteran... but not necessarily a man who displayed the outward glitter of making the big-time. A child of poor immigrant farmers, he struggled much of his life to make ends meet -- fixing his own cars, building things from scrap... But he smiled all the time. And he wore a jaunty hat. And when things got bad, he was known for telling his progeny to "pull yourself up by the bootstraps and move on." A tough Minnesota Swede who married his 16-year old sweetheart, pregnant with twins, somewhere here in the Northwest, either before, or after he was shipped off to the war. And a second trip across another pond, not as a gunner in Europe this time, but a foot soldier in Korea. And raising ten kids during devastating house fires, looming poverty; working a piece of land that eventually became all his own, some time, on some date i don't know. As i said, the fringes of the story are beginning to fray.
But these two things are hemmed in: the jaunty hat, and the bootstraps.
The perversity of this man having to tell his hippie kids to pull it together, when he'd been through so much. And the continuing perversity of my parents telling it to me. As if anything i have ever been through and whine about should warrant them saying that to me. Not a fault on their part, but on mine because i just have no clue how easy i have it.
And the man who saw enough humor in life to wear his hat sideways. His ego made him do it, (it was quite fashionable in those days) but his spirit made him smile about it all day long, through it all.