Sunday, September 19, 2010

From Life to Fiction: Part I Generations

He was a big man. Tall. Strong. He was a quiet man too. When I was a young boy, he kind of intimated me. I never doubted that he loved me. Although there was no blood relation, we were family. We were family, of course, because we are human, we live in times of strange family structures. We are the modern era. He was my step-father's father. What that makes me, I don't know. Semantics. Suffice to say, I respected him and admired him the way a grandchild should. For his part, he loved me as a grandfather loves a child.

He was a big man, have I said that? Even into his 80s he was a tall man. As his height dwindled he would often say: “Tony, you're getting taller every time I see you.” This was not the case, after all, I was in my thirties at this point. However, even losing the battle with gravity, he was always a big man to me.

In his youth, he fought war. How many of us can say that? All the men in my family, me included. But this is about grandpa. He flew the B-19. He bombed the shit out of Germany. Forty-five years later, when the Army took me to Germany, he had nothing but positive things to say about the place. His bombing missions ended when his plane took flack. On the way to the ground he watched the people, farm people namely, come at him from all sides. Once he landed in their arms, it was all over. They were lynching him. I can't say I blame them, he was the enemy. Incidentally, it was a patrol of Nazi soldiers who saved him. They saved him because it was more humane. Also, it was protocol to let the man rot as a POW in the final months of the war.

But all that was 1944 and 1945. We're here. Now. 2010. As I said, he was a big man. Grandpa worked. He raised a family. He had tons of friends. He grew kick-ass tomatoes. In short, the obituary and the memories rolled up in anecdotes and the photographs can only paint a basic thumbnail of a life. As I've said, he was a tall man.

Grandpa was a tough guy. The real kind of tough guy. The tough guy who understood the strength in being gentle. He understood the need to take care of things: his family, his business; his garden, even his cars. He was a shutterbug. The astounding number of family photographs is impressive in itself, and he makes his appearance in so few of them.

After some months of failing health, Grandpa McGregor died this month. He was 87 years old. As my parents said, I knew it was true: “It's the end of an era.” It is the end indeed. I miss the man, and perhaps I will miss him as much as I always have since we were not very active in each other's lives for several years. But the annual visits will probably be lacking something.

Needless to say, Robert (Bob) Alpine McGregor, is a hero. And his passing is indeed the end of an era. It's the end of an era in my family. He really should be the definition of his generation. A generation of people brought up in the old times: the great depression, World War II; the atomic bomb, they reared the nuclear family. They preserved what they had, they were shaped by their world. What a world it was indeed.

I talk often about fiction, as we all do I suspect. Yet, there are too many events in life in which we need to make sense of it all. In previous discussions we've talked about the anecdote and how that can be crafted into fiction. Let's suppose it does. If I think about my grandpa, there are so many events of his life that can be the backdrop or the springboard into fiction. Just his personal history is fantastic. Hell, all the events of the world in which he lived are so far beyond my imagination. I know from conversations I had with the man that he didn't think much about many of the world events. He had seen them, whereas I learned about them in school or from old timers like him. It's a funny contrast of perspectives. Needless to say, the man had stories. Additionally, I am a writer and I like stories.

I say the springboard into fiction, only because there are many things about fiction that are more accurate and truth telling than non-fiction or memoir. I say this because in fiction we have the freedom to tell a story and illustrate a point. For instance, we all know how I feel about Grandpa McGregor. We also know a think or two about my family structure. Everyone is entitled to two grandfathers. I had three. I had my mother's father, Frank Aiello. I had my father's father, Tony ILacqua. And I had my step-dad's father, Bob McGregor. They were all wonderful men, and if anything more, I have been blessed with three of the best men as role models. Should I want to paint a story with a grandfather character, I can use any or all of these men. Pulling qualities from each, stories from each and my personal experience from each, I can have characters for days. Not to mention, it's hard to mourn the loss of a great man when I can draw on him when I write.

Today, a very simple assignment. There is a generation between you and your grandparents. Tell me a story. Make it interesting. Make it fiction. Make it fun.

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