In my grandfather’s den, the walls were covered with Green Bay Packers fan memorabilia. Posters, license plates, plaques, towels, flags. Bobble heads nodded off on shelves, mini footballs sat next to cheese heads and foam fingers declaring the NFL team to be “#1!”
It wasn’t something I ever paid much attention to. After all, the room’s decor was as reliable as finding my grandfather sprawled out in his thread-bare recliner working word search puzzles. So I’m not entirely sure what compelled me to ask him that summer afternoon when exactly it was that he became such a die-hard Packers fan.
You see, my grandfather was a career Air Force officer who traveled the world and never lived in the same place for very long—until retirement, that is, when he settled in a sleepy western Kentucky town and laid down roots for his family for the first time. I don’t remember him ever being stationed Green Bay, or anywhere in Wisconsin for that matter, so I found myself intrigued by this allegiance.
“Pa,” I’d asked him, “why do you like the Packers so much?”
“Don’t really care for the Packers at all, Bumble Bee,” he answered without looking up from his puzzle. Which was quite puzzling on its own. “Don’t really watch much professional football.”
“Well then why do you have all of this Packers stuff?”
He sat down his puzzle then and leaned forward in his old chair making sure he had my full attention. “I’m going to tell you something that you might not understand right now, but I promise you’ll understand it one day,” he said. “Sometimes we do things for the people that we love for reasons we can’t quite explain. We do it because we love them more than we love ourselves and showing them that means more than any tiny speck of pride we may be hanging on to.”
My aunt had followed my grandfather into the Air Force as soon as she turned 18. She moved quickly up the ranks and was a well-respected junior officer at the young age of 22. Also at the young age of 22, she met the man who would become her husband of 41 years (and counting), and she dropped out of the Air Force without so much as a second thought. And much to my grandfather’s dismay. It took father and daughter years to get back on good terms, and my grandfather hung Green Bay Packers memorabilia all over his favorite room in the house because his daughter’s husband was a huge Packers fan.
He was right: I didn’t quite understand it that summer afternoon. But I would get it one day.
My grandfather’s words would ring loud and clear in my head as I stood in the middle of a wig shop one afternoon in July with a lavender bob concealing my long blonde hair while I sang a Cyndi Lauper song at the top of my lungs. I’d be dancing with girls who just wanna have, that’s all they really want, some fun while my mother laughed despite all efforts to keep a straight face, and it would hit me like a sack of potatoes to the chest.
I’d hate watching “Bones”. Almost as much as I’d hate playing gin rummy. If I looked at another chocolate milk shake, I’d probably lose my lunch. I’d stay up all night long brushing sweat-soaked hair off of damp foreheads and go to work the next day with unwashed hair and wrinkled clothes. And I’d barely notice.
Because my grandfather was always right. We do things for the people that we love for reasons we can’t quite explain. May never be able to explain. Without so much as a hint of pride.
Scott Simon, host of NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday,” lost his mother late last night. In the true spirit of modern journalism and technology, he tweeted his thoughts and reflections through their final days together to his 1.2 million followers. Two of my favorites:
In 2008, Scott interviewed his mother for a story called, “A Son, His Mom and a Story about a Dog,” in honor of the National Day of Listening sponsored by StoryCorps, which asks people to interview their loved ones and tell a story about their lives. Simon and his mother shared a story about the time she pretended to be blind to sneak her dog into an upscale restaurant. The story is hilarious. And moving. As most stories between mother and child are.
A brief excerpt:
SIMON: There’s some exceptions, all right? So people hear me on the radio, and they think I have very good manners.
Ms. GILBAND: Oh. OK. Well, yes.
SIMON: And that comes from you.
Ms. GILBAND: Oh, thank you.
SIMON: That would only come from you because you were so intent on making certain that I said please and thank you and was respectful to people.
Ms. GILBAND: Oh, I see. Well, I think any parents – most parents are that way. Your father had lovely manners.
SIMON: Yeah, he did.
Allow me to draw attention to what my mother just did. She deflected a compliment and moved the conversation away from her. With my mother, good manners has never been just saying please and thank you, but behaving with a kind of graciousness that Hemingway famously called grace under pressure. He said that was courage. In our show business family, my father called it class.
About 25 years later, my father was gone and my mother remarried. A woman who’s had four last names isn’t shy about commitments. She’d married a wonderful man who got convicted of a crime. About this time of year in the mid-1970s, the day was snowy and raw. Our family, teary and heartsick, got onto an elevator in Chicago’s Federal Building. After a couple of floors, the elevator doors parted. In walked one of the men who’d been on the jury. We’d sat across from each other in the courtroom for weeks. He nodded tightly, bit his lip grimly, and looked up as the numbers on the elevator blinked down slowly – 11, 10, nine.
He seemed a decent man who was disconcerted to see the pain he caused nice people. My mother turned around and told him, good morning, sir. Well, at least we all get to home now, don’t we? Now that’s class.
One of my favorite parts of their exchange comes near the end. “It’s been a beautiful journey knowing you,” Pat tells her son, causing him to cry.
For someone whose own mother taught me the art and beauty of telling stories, no other thing could ring more true. It continues to be one of my favorite journeys.