How both my grandpas nearly died

Recently, somebody on Facebook asked me if I’d looked into my family’s roots or origin.

The answer is “sort of”…

I’m not an expert on my family history…

But I can tell you a little bit…

And maybe you’ll find it interesting.

 

So here we go:

On my mom’s side, both of my great grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from Calabria, Italy.

If you don’t know much about Calabria, it’s a pretty poor part of Italy…

And this was doubly true back at the turn of the 20th century.

My relatives came through places like Ellis Island…

And, like many immigrants, they had their last name changed by a lazy customs official who didn’t really care.

Also, like a lot of immigrants, my great grandparents struggled to find jobs…

Calabria

 

So my relatives all made their way to West Virginia…

Where they found work in the coal mines.

There was a little bit of a break from the coal mines during World War I…

When my great grandfather on my mom’s side went back to Europe to fight for the U.S…

And was ultimately captured by the enemy and tortured as a prisoner of war.

It fucked him up pretty badly, as you can imagine…

But after the war and his release…

It was back to West Virginia and back to those coal mines.

Pretty much everyone on my mom’s side of the family worked in those mines…

And my mom still has memories as a little girl of uncles, cousins, and other relatives coughing up blood due to black lung.

Now, onto my grandparents…

One of them was born inside a coal mining camp…

And the other was born in a little town adjacent to the camp.

They met in high school…

And when they were 16 or so…

​​They were involved in a brutal car crash with a drunk driver…

Which nearly killed my grandfather.

He survived, but only after emergency surgery that left his face permanently scarred and altered.

Pretty nuts.

Now fast forward a bit…

And my grandfather ultimately got a job after World War II working for Coca-Cola.

He worked for them in their bottling facilities and factories as an engineer…

And he held that job for 40+ years.

It was a good job for the son of Italian Immigrants…

But my grandfather went deaf in both ears due to so much time spent on the factory floor.

And while they were lucky enough to always have a roof over their head…

They were still pretty damn poor.

My mom was discouraged from going to college because it was too expensive…

But she ultimately found a way– starting with junior college, then a regular university, and ultimately getting a Masters in early childhood education.

She worked multiple jobs to pay for her education (no money from her parents, no loans, no financial aid).

And so did her sister, my aunt Cathy…

Although fun fact:

Aunt Cathy actually got scurvy her first year at college because she was so broke that she couldn’t afford the school’s meal plan…

And was living off ramen (literally, not figuratively).

ww2

 

Anyways…

After college, my mom eventually met my dad…

Who came from a more comfortable middle-class family.

My dad’s father (aka my grandpa on that side) was also an engineer…

And a little tidbit about him: he had one of his kidneys blown out during World War II…

When a tank he was on ran over a landmine.

Coal Mines and Landmines…

Pretty nuts…

But he survived, and after WWII…

 

He got several engineering jobs with both civilian contractors and the government…

Including one notable stint in New Mexico, working on Project Bluebook…

Which, if you don’t know, was the U.S. Government’s Top Secret investigation into UFOs.

Another fun story for you:

Shortly before my grandpa on my dad’s side died…

My dad asked him:

“So what’d you guys find out in New Mexico? Are there aliens or what?”…

To which my grandpa replied:

“I can’t talk about that, it’s classified.”

It drove my dad nuts…

But I think it’s pretty gangster that my grandpa wasn’t breaking protocol – even on his deathbed.

So yeah…

That’s just a quick snapshot…

And very incomplete.

But it is a cool family history, if you ask me…

And it also makes me feel incredibly lucky.

Both of my grandpas almost died in their youth – one because of a car crash and one because of a landmine…

And if either of them had, I wouldn’t be here today.

Plus, beyond that…

I just think of the crazy hardships my relatives went through…

Working 16 hour+ shifts in poorly ventilated coal mines…

Black lung, poverty, sleeping on dirty floors…

Fighting in brutal wars…

It’s insane.

Insane that they went through this…

But also insane how, in just a few generations, a family’s prospects can change so dramatically.

I’m living proof of that…

Someone who gets paid handsomely to type away at a keyboard in utter comfort…

While my wife and child want for nothing.

Thinking about this, it gives me hope…

And I think these kinds of stories can inspire others as well…

Because given a long enough horizon and a little bit of luck…

You can change the trajectory of not just your life…

But the lives of countless future generations as well.

– SPG

 

P.S. This post originally came from an email I sent to my private list. If you want to see more stuff like this from me, you can apply to join my list using this link

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