Just over a year ago, I began writing letters to my great grandfather as often as I could. An ample vessel of knowledge, my 95 year old great-grandfather has lived through war, political turmoil, economic instability, civil rights movements, and other infamous chapters of US history textbooks.
Peter Brooks, a lifelong resident of a small town in southeastern Connecticut, is the father of two daughters, the grandfather of two granddaughters, and the great grandfather of two great granddaughters. My great grandfather, or as I call him, “Papa,” has watched the development of this country for just shy of 100 years. Whether he’s telling me about how the first president he voted for was FDR with the moral of the story being the importance of voting, or telling me about witnessing racial injustice in the seemingly progressive upper right hand corner he has lived for all of his life, there is not a conversation with my Papa that I cannot find an iota wisdom from.
October of 1927, my Papa was born to two Irish immigrants recovering from the Great Depression that devastated families across the nation. Conversations on the phone with my Papa often lead to him sharing stories about his memories, from the roof of the chicken coop that he guarded at night, and memories from some of the odd jobs that he worked to support him, his parents, and eventually, my great grandmother. He met my great grandmother, my Nana, at age 20. They married after two years of dating, and stayed married for the next seventy years and seven months of my great grandmother’s life. Unfortunately, my Nana passed in 2020 and for the exception of exactly 6 days since her burial, my Papa visits her every single day.
Just shy of 5000 weeks on earth, my Papa always has a story to tell. Each anecdote he shares holds messages of wisdom and luck attached to each chapter. To think, if my Papa’s World War II draft card hadn’t been lost, I would not be here today. I owe everything to him.
I am so lucky to have my great grandfather around. I kick myself thinking about how long it took for me to connect with him. I have always loved him so much, but because my Papa is unaware of modern forms of instant communication (besides via curly landline cords attached to an answering machine purchased in the 80s), my twenty-first century self never thought about handwriting notes and sending them to him. While he cannot write back to me because of the weak nerves in his hands, I am elated when he references them during our weekly conversations.
It has always been a thing for me to have my great grandfather alive and well, but I know that time goes too fast to think of calling him another day. My name, Brooke, is an adaptation of my Papa’s surname, Brooks. Every time I write my name on the top left hand corner of the envelope that I mail to him, I smile and proudly lick the seal knowing where my name comes from.