There is Unknown Valor Here.

My heart is pounding in my ears as I sit in the parking lot, phone pressed to my ear. “What do you mean, he’s dead? He was supposed to come over for dinner this weekend.” My voice sounds hollow and alien to me as it comes out of my mouth. I hang up the phone and just sit quietly for a minute to gather my thoughts. I feel the tears being pulled up from my throat and force the lump back down. I am not ready to release this emotion yet. I fumble my car key into the ignition and turn it on. My mind is hazy and distracted, somewhere in there is a thought that maybe I shouldn’t drive until I have a clearer head. But I don’t listen.

I drive without knowing where I am going, barely obeying traffic laws. Until eventually I end up in front of a house. Glancing around, I realize its my grandfather’s house; or rather, was my grandfather’s house.

The old 3 family house in what used to be the nice area of town. Green and white wooden shutters that haven’t been painted or replaced since Nixon was in office, are now faded and the paint has been eroded away. The front porch is rotting and sagging with debris piled on it as if someone was squatting there at night. “Honestly”, I think to myself, “they probably are”.

I look under the mat and find a key. It opens the front door. I have never seen the inside of this house. My grandfather was a private man, always preferring to go to someone else’s house rather than have people over his.

Quietly, I look around at the knickknacks and treasures he held so dear. His daughter’s dress from when she was 5 years old, his son’s stereo equipment and desk from 40 years ago. His wife’s kitchen gadgets, which are now antiques.

I feel a force pulling me up the stairs, I heed the call and begin my trek up the creaky stairs, careful not to step on any rotting wood. I go all the way up to the attic. In the corner there is a pile of stuff, boxes upon, boxes upon, boxes of stuff.

Underneath all those boxes, I see a wooden crate. It looks old and weathered. Quickly I move everything else out of the way so I can get to the wooden box. It is not locked. I heave open the heavy lid. What I find makes me gasp audibly. There are pictures of a man I recognize as my grandfather as a young man. He is wearing a uniform that I didn’t know he wore. USMC. I begin to look through the rest of the trunk and find his rifle; a 1903 Springfield, as well as two sets of uniforms both neatly folded with military precision. Underneath the uniforms; there is a medium sized black case. It looks like a jewelry case but bigger. I think I know what’s in the case. With shaking hands I reach out and gingerly pick it up. I open the case and find 6 medals. I look closer, I see the Medal of Honor, a Purple Heart, Navy Cross, The Navy distinguished Service Medal, The Distinguished Service Cross, and the Silver Star.

I had no idea about this side of my grandfather. It was a complete surprise to me. I went through some of the paperwork in the trunk and found that he was a sniper in the Pacific Theater. He once held off an entire Japanese unit by himself so his buddies could take cover. That’s what the Medal of Honor was awarded for. The Navy Cross was for carrying a young private that had been badly injured through an open field while a firestorm of bullets whizzed around them to safety. The Purple Heart was awarded to him when he was shot in the abdomen. And on and on. Pages and Pages of accounts of valor and bravery. And I never knew any of this while he was alive.

Suddenly I knew why I was sent to his house. He wanted me to find this secret. I knew he had to be honored for his deeds.

I slipped the case carefully into my bag along with his uniform and service pictures. Feeling full of purpose, I headed home to share my newfound information with my family.

Family Tree

As I sit in Starbucks contemplating the job application before me, I overhear a little nugget of information that sticks in my brain. Two middle aged people are having a chat next to me. “I couldn’t imagine sinking that low that I would need a job like that” I take a side glance at the photo on the iPhone belonging to one of these people. It’s a meme of a McDonald’s employee, the caption reads “do you want fries with that?” They both chuckle at the absurdity of working for minimum wage.

Instantly, I feel out of place in this space.

My mind starts to wander to my working class roots that are still trying to get a foothold in this soil.

My dad grew up in a diner that his mother managed. His first job was working in that diner at 13 years old. He was a short order cook, dishwasher, waiter, cashier, cleaner, busboy, and a bouncer when he had to be. Since that diner my dad has had more jobs than I have years. Factory worker, mechanic, delivery man, driver, oil delivery man, waiter, bartender, bouncer, carpenter, plumber, electrician, police officer, housing authority officer, forensic photographer, criminologist. My father is a high school dropout with no college degree.

He has spent so much energy trying to make sure his descendants fall far away from this family tree.

My mom is the complete opposite she got her first job as a social worker at 24. Her mother was a trust-fund baby. And lived in the social and educational circles to match. Her parents would have fainted if anyone even suggested they didn’t want to go to graduate school let alone drop out of high school. When my mom fell for my dad and brought him home to meet her parents at age 30, he was subjected to a 4 hour in-your-face interrogation by my grandmother. My dad would later remark “the Nazis were nothing compared to my mother-in-law.” My grandmother did not like that my dad was of the working class. They felt that my mother was “above scum like him.”

They didn’t like that he had his GED instead of his diploma and never finished college.

The fact that he was one of the most respected forensic specialists on the east coast meant nothing.

The fact he treated my mom with respect meant nothing.

The fact that he helped set a precedent benefiting rape victims in Connecticut primarily by himself meant nothing.

They threatened to disown my mother if she married him. She did it anyway and they didn’t disown her but their relationship with my dad was always icy.

3 years after they were married my mom had a miscarriage. She had to have to the fetus removed at the hospital, it was technically an abortion.

Afterwards the phone rings, it’s my grandmother. She screamed at my mom for murdering her grandchild, she told my mom that she was going to hell for having an abortion. According to my grandmother she should have left the fetus in her uterus to fester so that they both would die and go to heaven.

It was my dad, the working class scum that calmed her down and told her how those beliefs were antiquated and asinine. He told her that no woman should feel that she has to carry death inside her for salvation. He told her women should be able to do what they need to do with their own bodies.

So when people ask me why I identify more with my dad’s family than my mom’s, I tell them that they’re more in line with my working class beliefs. And that I’m proud to have fallen close to this family tree.