Remembering Grandpa Louie
It occurs to me that in order to fill this month and maybe the rest of my life with posts, I may have to do like the newspapers do: recycle annual storylines. I guess there’s no shame in that. We live our lives in circles — why not talk about them? (Again and again and again.)
Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day. It made me think of my grandfather, Louie Carpenter. He served in World War II, in the Navy Seabees, building runways in the South Pacific.
He died when I was young, and I have few specific memories of him. Only one, really. He had been in ill health, and one day I was over at my grandparents’ house with just him and me there. He was smoking a cigarette, which I remarked on. He said, “We won’t tell your grandmother about this.”
I remember him as a calm and gentle person, in contrast to my grandmother who was kind but wound very tightly.
Grandma liked to tell a story about when Grandpa was home from the war. My dad was just a few years old and mad at Grandpa about something, and he said, “Why don’t you go back to the Pacisic?” I can still hear my grandmother’s voice and see the joy in her face at the telling of this, the remembering of a happy time. (And I think of the time when my daughter was four years old, and crying and upset about something, and I can still hear her little voice, saying, “Go back to your office, Dad.”)
It’s hard to get my mind around World War II; what it was like at that time. My grandfather was several years younger than I am now, just starting a family, and he was called to be part of the war machine. What did he think about it? Building things for the purpose of destroying and being destroyed. I’m sure like most soldiers, he just wanted to do his duty and return to his family. Which he did, thankfully.
He went on to work as a lineman and foreman for Northern States Power. I have his retirement watch sitting on my desk, inscribed, “NSP / Louis F. Carpenter / 30 years.”
I know he was a great father to my father.
He had four brothers also in the war, three in the Navy and one in the Merchant Marines. I have a picture of the five of them, after the war, dressed in suits and smiling and looking great. My dad also sent me this picture — Louie is on the right, standing next to his brother Fran:
They had the chance to meet in the South Pacific during the war, on board Fran’s ship. In another photo you can see more ships in the background. What a crazy time. I love these photos of my grandfather and his brothers. Seeing my people, in the middle of all that. They were living their lives and doing what they had to do, as we all can only do. I look at their faces in the photos and I’m transported back in time. I wish I could have known them better as people, in ways that are impossible across the generations.