Yesterday, sitting down to Thanksgiving with family in Springfield, Massachusetts, I was remembering the very first time I had dinner at that table, nineteen years ago, I think. I had been dating Danny for just a little over a year, but we were certainly Serious, so it seemed right to both of us that we would be celebrating holidays together. Our romantic vision of a lifetime together (already firmly in place) drew us to each other's families. I wanted to know Dan's aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents in large part because I wanted to know him, more and more deeply and fully.
And so, nineteen years ago I sat at the table of Dan's aunt and uncle, and watching and listening, trying to figure out what was going on. It was like walking into a movie a half hour late--there was already so much story underway, so many important characters had already been established, that it was hard to keep up. I dipped into one conversation and out of another, and then, over pie, a raging argument between Dan and his grandfather Bernie caught my attention.
Dan had been taking a class in college called "The History of the International Communist Movement", and he felt like he had some facts on hand with which to challenge his grandfather's unwavering affection for the Russian communist state. But Dan only had to mention the invasion of Hungary, when Bernie cut him off. "The Hungarian people objected to the Russian presence very briefly," Bernie said, "but when they found out what the Russians were all about, they welcomed them. That should be obvious to any student of history. If they wanted the Russians out, they would have fought, just like the Vietnamese."
Dan was shocked, and launched back into the argument, but I was speechless. I had never, ever met anyone like Bernie Greenberg. My parents were certainly members of the political left, but actual communists remained charicatures to me, some combination of Ernst Blofeld and Boris Badenov. I had seen "Reds" in high school but that movie was my only keyhole into why anyone had ever embraced the Russian communist state.
That conversation with Bernie was, for a long time, a bit of a family joke, one story among many from both our families which we told as illustration of the quirkiness of our families. But recently, I've been seeing that conversation, and the life Dan's grandfather, a bit differently. I've been thinking that I need to tell his story, not just to snicker at his blindness, but to preserve a history of the twentieth century that's in danger of being forgotten.
My children, just like me and my parents before me, learn first of all the history of war. We celebrate the end of war, of course, and Veteran's Day is just that, the day when World War I ended. But reading Andrea Barrett's "The Air We Breathe" and re-watching "Reds" over the past few weeks has me thinking of another part of the story of World War I--the massive resistance to the U.S. entry into that war, the massive resistance to the draft of U.S. soldiers to fight in that war, and the large scale mutinies within European armies during the war, resulting in the end in the Russian revolution and Russia's withdrawal from the war.
Dan and I have this blessing among many others to be thankful for as we re-gather this time of year with our families. We have another story to tell--a story of dreams and ideals and aspirations for something other that a history ruled by militarism and might. And while telling that story also requires a confession of blindness and human falibility, it is a story that I am still proud to tell my kids.