Probably because it's Memorial Day, and because I just finished reading a generational novel, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (more on that later), I woke up this morning thinking about my maternal grandfather, Lester James Clayworth. He died, well before I was born, in 1962 at the age of 40. What occurred to me is that I know remarkably little about him. He was in the infantry in World War II and fought at the Battle of the Bulge. I have some foggy memories of pictures that my grandmother Lois (Scoville) Clayworth kept in a box along with some medals and other mementos. She also had a stash of letters that he had sent her during the war. Unfortunately, shortly before her death ten years ago, she burned his letters. In one way, I can understand why she did this. The letters were written to her, and were probably romantic in nature, or perhaps included some information she didn't want her kids or grandkids to read. Maybe they were sort of intensely or embarrassingly amorous. At the same time, I wish that I could read them now. It's strange to think that my grandfather was about the same age as some of my younger students when he was on the front lines in Belgium and Germany.
I did a little bit of research this morning online. On sites like Ancestry.com I was able to find out a fair amount about the Clayworth family — my grandfather's father was named Roy Taylor Clayworth, and his father was named Edward Clayworth. They were both born in Kansas. Roy moved from Kansas to Missouri, and at some point my grandfather moved from Missouri to Chicago. One of Lester's sisters was (or perhaps still is) named Baby Clayworth Clayworth. There's another relative named Living Clayworth. Roy and his wife Bernice had 8 children over a 23-year period.
The strange thing, to me, is that there is about as much information online about my great-great grandfather as there is about my grandfather, or even my grandmother. Date of birth, name of spouse and date of marriage, date of death. I found myself wanting a bit more. Where's the picture of my grandfather in his service uniform? Where's their wedding portrait? Where's some kind of written record of his personality? What was he like? What kind of jokes did he tell? Why did he raise birds? What did he think about when he was fishing?
My great uncle Dave Rettberg, who passed away this year after a long battle with Alzheimer's, was also a WWII veteran, a bombadier. I have some vague recollections of his war stories that I wished I'd paid more attention to when I was younger.
No one in my family served in Vietnam or the Gulf Wars, and I'm glad for that. Today must a very difficult one for the 800 or so American families who've lost a loved one in the past year due to the Bush adventure in Iraq.
Thanks to my brother Paul, of Media Dreams Studios for the pics of Lester. Also, it turns out Baby Clayworth Clayworth probably died at or shortly after birth. My Aunt Deb says there were only seven kids.