Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Remembering Nonnie

Today my husband and I are headed down to be with his family to celebrate the life of and mourn the passing of his grandfather. This is never an easy time, as the family gathers together, and yet it's always wonderful to see how we all come together to honor the life of someone all of us loved. For the first time I will be meeting my husband's entire family, because even though we've been together for over 5 years, I've never met one of his aunt's. Of course I wish it could have been under other circumstances, but somehow it's often death that brings so many family members together, sometimes for the first time in years or even decades.

Nonnie was a 93 year old World War II veteran who founded a local library with his personal book collection (a man after my own heart!). He had had a very long (obviously) and amazing life that included being among the first of the Allied side to walk through the Concentration Camp at Dachau; his mission being to record everything he saw there. Unfortunately I never got the chance to ask him about this, despite my love of history and my interest in the Holocaust, but two nights ago - after my mother-in-law called to tell us that Nonnie had passed - my husband pulled out his copy of the letter that Nonnie wrote for the Holocaust museum, where it is still on display. I knew that Nonnie had fought in World War II, and that he had written a letter, but I hadn't known until this week that Adam had a copy of it.

I regret not asking Nonnie more about his life during the times that we visited him. We usually talked of books, and he wanted to know what Adam and I were up to, where we were working, how we were doing. He was very involved in the present, rather than the in the past, and you would never have guessed from looking at this kindly, amiable, cheerful grandfather that he had a collection of old weaponry from his days as a soldier, some of them weapons taken off of the enemy who tried to kill him.

What I remember best about Nonnie is not actually a visit, it's the small welcoming speech that he gave me over the phone this past Thanksgiving, when he told me how thankful he was that Adam found me and that I am now a part of the family. I did not know that would be the last time I would get the chance to speak with him, but if I had I don't think there are any better last words that we could have had with each other. It touched me, how warmly welcoming both he and Granny Sarah were to me, how they included me in the things that they were thankful for this past year, and our last words were of love, family and welcome. And that's the biggest legacy that Nonnie leaves behind, his children and grandchildren, the great and wonderful family that he lavished his love and affection on through the long years of his life. I truly feel that his kindness and generosity of spirit will be with us as we gather to honor him.

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