My grandfather lived a life of tragedy. At the age of 7, his father died of cancer. He grew up a poor sharecropper in the midst of the Great Depression and had to drop out of school in the 7th grade to help support his 14 brothers and sisters. He had to watch two of his brothers leave for the Second World War just to return home and die in a robbery. As soon as he was of age, he was sent to fight in Korea. Working on artillery fire, he had to witness several of his fellow platoon members die in front of him as well as having to deal with the hundreds of faceless soldiers he was having to kill because of a political ideology he did not even comprehend. To his deathbed, he would wake up in the middle of the night screaming from visions of the war. When he returned stateside, more tragedy followed. His stepson was murdered in a drug dispute, he had to deal with his granddaughter's descent into drugs and alcohol, and, at the end of it all, he died a long, drawn-out death from colon cancer. Despite all of this, there was one thing my grandfather never did: complain.
My grandfather was raised in a part of a dying generation of Americans; a generation that gave more than they took, that did what they thought was moral and right, and did not expect a damn thing out of life. My grandfather taught me that anything worth having was worth working hard for and that no one is "too good" for any job they are offered. He worked at the GM plant for 35 years, etching VIN numbers onto cars. He had to leave his home every day at 4 A.M. for backbreaking, physical labor, and yet he was extremely proud of his service for GM. He used his time on the assembly line to achieve something more fulfilling than personal gain: he used it as a chance to move his children forward. Reflecting on the opportunities he had wished he had, he paid for my mom and her brothers to pursue higher education, resulting in my uncles becoming a doctor and an engineer and making a better life for my mom than he had had when he was a child.
My grandfather was always extremely staunch in his political views, and though we disagreed on many topics, he never discouraged me from my political aspiration and ideology. Rather, he often encouraged me to continue to fight for what I thought was right. He impressed upon me the importance of standing for what you believe in, and if someone questions your beliefs, defend them until you can defend them no longer. In his eyes, any cause worth believing in was a cause worth fighting for, and this philosophy is what molded me into loving debate and the political process.
My grandfather died the day after I turned 15 years old. I was in the middle of getting my Learner's Permit printed when he passed away. Almost poetically, I still drive the Chevy ST that he had saved for me so that I would have a car when I started driving. Driving in his old truck, I often reflect on all the life lessons that he pressed upon me over the years, and I often think that maybe, just maybe, if more people would adhere to the philosophy of my grandfather, the world would be a much better place.