One sparkling summer afternoon the Navy League of Boston held an outdoor cookout at Coast Guard Station Gloucester, Massachusetts. I attended with a (male) friend in the Navy, and prepared (as a civilian woman) to be either ignored or bored by endless "shop talk."
Instead, for some reason, when I filled out my name tag, this time I decided to include my middle name. The head of the Navy League took one look at the name "Hurd," gasped, and said, "Are you related to Jack Hurd?" "Yes, I replied, he was my grandfather."
That was a game changer. It felt like the heavens had opened up the way this man responded, and I suddenly became the belle of the ball. Everyone wanted to meet me and tell me a story about my grandfather, and I found myself "meeting" a side of him I knew nothing about. I still choke up!
I learned that my grandfather, Commander John Coolidge Hurd, USNR, had been very active with the Navy League after he retired from the service to be with his family. I learned that he was unwaveringly generous to Navy families, to veterans, to young officers and recruits. I learned that Navy folks were at his home "all the time," and that he and my grandmother hosted cookouts for Navy families. I heard story after story about how loved, respected, kind, charming, and witty my grandfather was.
All of this from a special event. How else would I have learned what I did? I have no idea.
Yes, I had known my grandfather when I was growing up, but not well. He died when I was a teenager, but because my mother, his daughter, had a difficult relationship with him, I never, ever knew about his Navy activities. I never attended a cookout to see him in action, or go to a Navy League event, or meet men he had served with. Except for the photographs in his study of the men he commanded, I never knew my Navy commander grandfather.
What a loss for me as a kid, but what a gift to hear these stories years later. Eventually, I was able to retrieve my grandfather's service records and learn even more.
I have no memory of which businesses and organizations supported this event along with the Navy League, but I would thank them if I could. Imagine knowing that an event you supported was responsible for giving someone such a precious gift.
We also need to talk to veterans, hear their stories, and write them down. (I wish I had!) Again, what role can you or your business play in this work?
Finally, we need to nurture the relationships between grandparents and grandchildren, between those two generations. I had no idea what I was missing out on.
Supporting good work in the world comes back to you - it just does.
Which community events are you supporting this year?
2011 © Bonnie Hurd Smith
Bonnie Hurd Smith, the President and CEO of History Smiths, is an expert on using history in new and innovative ways. She is a marketing, PR, event planning, and cultural tourism professional who also happens to be a respected historian (especially women's history), author, and public speaker. Her companion website is called Women Make History.
Which community events are you supporting