I'll be honest, my family isn't particularly sentimental about patriotism. We've see far too many politicians use it--as Mark Twain insisted-- as the last refuge of the nincompoop. If someone doesn't like your version of how to fix the world, well, they scream "UNPATRIOTIC" in your face, and you run away, for fear of being blackballed or having your family taken away or being put in a room for months and sweated for a confession. And that was even before 911 and the Bush years, and the last wearying eight years of having a thinking man in the white house and a whole bunch of extremists everywhere else, including surrounding us in our general area.
It is enough to make a flaming liberal a little wary, at the very least.
On the other hand, well…
Mate and I are respectful children, and we've been taught to respect our elders, and, well, yeah.
My grandparents were heroes in the war.
Did I mention this?
That my grandparents were heroes in the war?
I know I have. I know if you look through my blog archives you'll see my memorials of the two of them, and the mention that I listened to their stories, I watched my grandfather's interview for the office of living history, I was there when my grandmother's role in the OSS was finally declassified, just a few months before her death.
I'm not going to rehash everything they said-- and in a general sort of way, I am aware that grandmother was famous for embellishing story, and she may possibly(!) have spread a little bit of misinformation when she told me what she did, just because I was hanging on her every word. But how could I not?
My grandparents were HEROES!
And I'm just a storyteller. How do you not put those things together and get me, hungering for their stories, wanting more of them, and more?
How do you not get me…
Writing my own story, with bits and pieces of their story inside.
Well, see, when this book comes out (The Bells of Times Square)-- and I'm thinking sometime in what? November? I'll probably put a forward at the beginning of it, talking about what my grandparents' contributed to this book that I wrote years after their death.
I'll talk about what I know about what they did in the OSS and what they said they did, and how I twined it all up in the story like it was real, because sometimes the stories you tell your children and grandchildren about what you did are the things you wish were real about people in general.
One of them is of grandma, a few months before she passed away. In a way, it's sort of an unfair picture to share-- she's vulnerable. Old, infirm, content to wield the remote control and deal with her discomfort and will the confusion of the world to go away. (I was looking for a picture of grandpa, and I know there's one in my phone, but I don't know how to make folders and it's just so chaotically organized-- hottie, hottie, hottie, drawn hottie, meme, hottie, thinly disguised peen, grandpa in a wheelchair, hottie, hottie, meme… I figured I'd stick to grandma, since she was easier to find.)
Anyway, the other picture is of DC heroines, easily found on the net, I chose the picture that's a little bit old school, not quite so sexually exploitive as some, and full of optimism-- women in their prime, kicking ass.
And how these two pictures are the extreme ends of what I believe heroism is, and why I tried to write The Bells of Times Square to reflect this, and why in spite of a deep and abiding cynicism and distrust of my government and a dislike of how they treat their veterans in general, I still like to take a moment to remember my family's sacrifices on this shamelessly exploitively patriotic day. (Don't get me started on the Fourth of July. We try to spend that day at the movies.)
The fact is, we are not, we will never be, the fearless heroines in the poster. Even the heroines were not the heroines in the poster. The best superhero stories are the ones about how the people overcome their generally flawed humanity and rise to the occasion of being a hero. That's the entire archetype of the hero. That's why man started writing stories, to explore the difference between what man was and what we all wanted him to be.
And we find (as we have always found) that the genuine hero is somewhere between the two extremes. Somewhere between the elderly woman sprawled inelegantly on the couch and the cut, determined women on the comic book cover was the woman who worked for the OSS after a job modeling, cooked up "dirty tricks" for the POW's to play on the Germans, and was proud of serving her country. Somewhere between Captain America and Bucky Barnes lies my grandpa, whose job it was to take pictures from airplanes, and who either went down over Greece and joined the resistance, or was dropped over Greece, while using a completely different name. And somewhere in the middle of all of that was the elderly man in the wheelchair, who gave his grandchildren high fives and wanted to know if I was going to name my last child Moonbeam, since all my others were named some sort of wierdo name that he had no familiarity with at all.
And that's why Memorial Day. That's why a moment of silence. That's why some appreciation of the heroic war movies on television today. That's why some honoring of those who have gone before.
That's why The Bells of Times Square.
Because yes, patriotism is the last refuge of the nincompoop and you're not going to convince me otherwise. (Even Captain America wasn't buying the party line by the end of the last movie.) And yes, our government is flawed, cracked, rubble and lies. But not even those beliefs can taint what real heroism is. That in the heart of the departed, in the soul of the elderly grandparents, still sharp even as they declined, in the core of so many of the people I admire, is the part of humanity that wants to make the world better.
That thinks it's their job to help make this come true.
That is willing to risk terrible odds to see it happen.
We need to remember them. We need a remembrance of them. We especially need to remember that the core of heroism in them was seated in the same flawed flesh that couches our own optimism, our own view of the world.
We need to see that heroism in ourselves.