My grandfather, George Derr, was at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago today – a handsome young man going about his daily routine until the sunny Hawaiian skies came crashing down.
He made it out alive, but was the only person on his deck to do so. The question of ‘why them and not me?’ probably raced through his brain more than a million times on that one (can you even imagine)? Obviously I’m very grateful that there were other plans for him.
When I was dipping my toes in the sand and water of Maui last month, I thought about him. How he moved about on December 7th, 1941 just one island over – not realizing the kid he had morning coffee with would be gone within the hour, that nothing would be the same by7:56am. Somehow the backdrop of perfect sunshine, mountain ridges and immaculate beaches made the thought of such violence and sadness all the more grotesque.
I never met him, he died when my mom was just a teenager, but his sailor suit and smile lives on top of my dining room bookcase in a small frame.
On days like this, I realize I don’t know nearly enough about him. I know that he was funny and loving, he brewed his own root beer in the basement, went out of his way to do little things to make his young daughters feel special and was great in the garden and kitchen. He was a devout Catholic and adored my grandmother to no end (another sweet soul I miss deeply today). Maybe just to know that he was is enough, maybe in the scheme of things we never know enough about the people we really adore.
For some reason, my heart jumps and thinks of him when I see Gene Kelly. Maybe it’s their Pittsburgh hometown connection or maybe it’s because I’d like to think we would have danced in the rain together. I imagine he would be proud of me for lots of things and less than excited about other stuff, that we would share a similar sense of humor, that I would never get tired of his stories, that he would be the best great-grandad ever to my shortie.
Like so many events that I was not alive to see, I have not forgotten and I will never stop being grateful for the sacrifices that have gifted me with the life I lead and the future I am able to provide for my own little one. Thanks Grandad. xo