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What I learned about my Grandpa
A song by Jeff Daniels (yes the actor) called “My Grandfathers Hat” made me start thinking about my own grandfather. Like most people they have memories of their grandfather when they are older and that is usually the only way you know them. They are just Grandpa when we are younger you get them Father’s day cards and “World’s best Grandpa” memorabilia. Do we learn about their lives before they were grandpa? I have been digging through some of my grandfather’s mementos and I have learned a few things I did not know about before.
I have been asking myself and others why I am so interested all of a sudden about learning about his past. I have received a couple reasons and have come up with a couple of my own. The first and best reason is that I am trying to connect with him. I connected with him like any kid that connects with their grandfather. He took me to Dodge park all the time and never complained about all of the dirty sticks I brought into his car (one every trip) but I couldn’t bring them inside the house. One winter we were there and my foot went through some ice, to me it was a lake but it was really no deeper than my knee. He slid over and moved faster I ever saw him move to pull me up.
Walks, lunch, nature center, we did it all which brings me my second reason. I connected with him as a kid but not an adult. By the time I was mature enough to connect with him as an adult he had passed away. So now I am trying to know him through his belongings. A third reason is that I simply don’t know, it is a mystery and I want to know more. The more I learn there is still more that I don’t know. There is what I remember and what I have been told and what I have learned.
My dad recently brought me a box of my grandfather belongings. Out of everything my grandparents had he held onto the things in this one box. There are birthday cards from everybody for his 80th birthday and I mean everyone I can think of. I am assuming he kept them because it was a milestone in life. I can see them now kept in his perfectly arranged dresser drawer.
There is also his retirement information from Chrysler. Seeing how much he received each month made me think how much less everything was when he retired. There is no chance anyone can live these days on the same retirement pension. He kept business cards from everywhere he went it seems and wrote on the back the name and number of who I assume he talked to. His address book is from the funeral home he worked at after he retired. Names addresses and phone numbers were crossed out and updated as they changed but nothing was ever erased.
I learned he was in charge of his High School reunion. He kept the Alumni List and letters from classmates he had written to. I am left wondering if they might still be alive but I doubt it. Reading a letter itself is even a little weird these days. Nobody writes a letter anymore (says the person typing) and cursive writing is not even being pushed in school. What are the generations to come going to do? Read anything written from someone born in the 40’s or earlier. Their cursive is crisp and smooth but it seems it is okay to print our whole life now.
Reading these letters reminds me how time and care was taken to communicate with people. Yes my grandparents had a phone and I am sure he used it but a letter was the next best communication if all you had is an address. I am glad he wrote down what the markings meant on his alumni list, because if he didn’t I would have no idea what it meant. The words Class of 34 is on the top of that list think of how much the world has changed since then and how much it hasn’t.
His military information is what I have been real interested in. I never knew much about it besides he was in World War 2 and did something with tanks. I have his helmet, knife, green glasses, and a hat with a patch on it. Thanks to my dad, uncle, and Google I know a little more. He was in the 760th Tank Battalion unit called the Tank Destroyers. The patch for the battalion is a Panther (my totem) biting a tank. The pin in his helmet is an armor plated Stegosaurus which represents the tank destroyers.
I don’t know exactly where he was in Europe but I want to learn more. I never asked him about the war because I was told not to. I have no idea what he saw or what he took part in. If anyone has information on this unit I would love to learn more.
His name is (yes I said IS) Bernard J Aranowski. He was a loving grandfather to all of his grandchildren but I was the only Grandson. Watching my son I am glad I can carry on his name. He never cursed, never spoke badly about anyone, and was always polite. He watched the news morning, noon, and night and he and my grandmother watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune in the evenings. He was born in 1914 and died in 2001 a little more than five months after I graduated High School.
My sisters and cousins have all of their memories of him too, as I said I wasn’t his only grandchild. All of the park trips and outings felt like a lifetime worth of memories. Looking through his box of belongings I felt like a little kid again. The more I dig I’m sure I will learn some more about his younger years.