War story season

Cut-and-pasted from an email written last June

Reading The Cider House Rules this week is a fortunate coincidence.

It is war story season around here - my grandfather's destroyer was bombed and badly damaged, with thirty dead and missing and forty more hurt, in early June 1944 near New Guinea. I first heard the whole story in 2001. I've been working to get as much of the story down as possible (he has written about it too) and so when Grandpa started to tell me the story anew on Saturday night, I listened carefully and took notes. I put all my energy into learning the story for almost two hours and was staggering around exhausted afterwards (this was after nine hours [at work], you see).

On the drive home the radio was off, I had so much processing to do. My head was full. After a long quiet walk, I wrote down as much as I could, just to get the too-much-data feeling to stop pressing against the inside of my skull. It's not just my grandfather's war story that I needed to re-rationalize from the mish-mash in my mind, but my experience as a listener too. And then there is the question, is this kind of story good for anything? (Besides Grandpa's peace of mind.) (Besides as a feature in The Martial Times or whatever those war-glorifying magazines call themselves.)

And then I finally figured out, I'm reading The Cider House Rules, I can relax, there's no rush.

John Irving got his grandfather's medical stories when he was alive and his papers when he died, and out of that stew came a story about an old abortionist. Hell, a Hollywood-palatable story about an abortionist and the place that legal and safe abortions have in society. So I can see, it doesn't matter, I don't have to do anything but listen and remember. Maybe I'll tell the story someday, in some form. Maybe not. If nothing else, I'll have something to say to my middle aged nieces and nephews at family reunions in the 2050s.

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