Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Getting To Know My Grandmother

She's 83, I'm 41, and I feel like I hardly know her.  Marilyn Pacheco, my paternal grandmother, came to visit us this Christmas and I'm saddened by the fact that I don't really know much about her life, and there is so much fascinating stuff to know.

According to my dad, she moved 35 times over the years, much of that for work, whether in the dairy industry or the real estate industry.  We were firmly planted in Colorado and so we would see each other periodically, a Christmas here, a summer time vacation there.  Prior to this Christmas, I have only three firmly entrenched memories of times that we spent together:  Christmas in Lake of the Ozarks, Summer Vacation in Myrtle Beach, and a summer visit to Texas.  There are probably others, but those three are the longest and most enduring memories I have.  There was never any malice or dislike on either side, the logistics of life simply conspired to keep our families apart.  When I heard she was coming I knew I would ask her to sit for some photographs, which she gladly did.

She's always been playful, I remember that.  When I sat her down for the shots, she immediately began playing with her arm positions and she wasn't shy at all.   I thought it might be work to photograph her, but it was easy.  She gave me what  I wanted and I was struck by the color of her eyes.  I have often joked with Nikki that I look like the hockey player Peter Forsberg because of the color of his eyes.  I said this because he is Swedish, and much of the family heritage on my mother's side comes from Sweden.  The more I looked in her eyes, though, the more I realized it comes from her, to my dad, to me.   She is Irish, among other things, and her maiden name was Maluy (mail-you).  As it turns out, my eyes are Irish, and they are smiling (hey-o).

While she was here, she wanted to see the mast of the U.S.S Oakland, which is currently sitting at the entrance of the Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland.  I vaguely remembered it being there, but I had never taken the opportunity to visit the site.  Her husband of 59 years, Chuck Pacheco, served aboard the U.S.S Oakland in the Pacific Theater as a signalman and stood on the platform at the top of the mast giving and taking signals from other ships in the carrier group.  We stood there and she and my dad told stories of that time and it all came alive in my mind.  Most striking of all is that the U.S.S Oakland was berthed several thousand yards away from the Missouri at the signing of the treaty to end the war,  close enough to provide prime seating for the crew to watch the events unfold.

During the war she worked at Mare Island Naval Station in Vallejo, taking the ferry daily across the small channel to work.  Gasoline was at a premium in those days because of the war effort so she walked and took the ferry.  While the Oakland was docked for repairs, she and my grandfather would communicate via semaphore , he from the ship and she from the small apartment she lived in across the channel.

Before she left, we talked a little about family history and where her side of the family comes from.  There is some speculation that somebody in the family may be a bastard child of a royal.  Who knows if this is true, but it's fascinating to talk about.  And that's the thing: people of this age have so much to talk about and so many great stories to tell.   If you haven't already, talk to them before it's too late, listen to their stories, write them down, and definitely take photos.   Theirs has been called "The Greatest Generation".  Now I have a much better understanding of why.

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