We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofOlivia Healy

When I was eight I found an old picture of my grandfather as a little boy in an orphanage. The photo was clearly quite old with distressed edges and in black and white coloring. I didn’t know much about my grandfather’s past so I was confused. He died when I was six years old, so regrettably, the only memories I have of him are of a silent old man. 

I brought the photo to my mother on a quiet morning as she was sitting in her home office and for the first time, I asked about her father’s story. She has always loved talking about him and always calls him her ¨hero¨. My mom proceeded to tell me how when my grandfather was a baby he was put on the doorstep of an orphanage in Los Angeles, California during the Great Depression. He was left without even a name. When he was about five, he was adopted by a wonderful woman who adored him and always did her best to care for him. However, she later realized that she could not afford the expenses of a child so she sent him back to the orphanage just two years later when he was seven. He ended up living in the orphanage until he was fifteen. I had only briefly learned about the Great Depression but I understood it was an incredibly difficult time in the United States.

I was always told I look very similar to my grandfather, and as my mom spoke, I started to picture a young boy who resembled myself, alone in an orphanage with nowhere to turn. I could feel the cold darkness of loneliness that he must have felt, and immediately felt tears streaming down my face. My mother began to cry too but assured me that there was a silver lining and to keep listening.

She then told me how when my grandfather turned fifteen he was able to legally leave the orphanage on his own. He managed to find his adopted mother again through city records. She was overjoyed to have him back in her life. They spent a short two years together before he enlisted in the Navy during World War II. He fought in multiple influential battles, mostly stationed in Indonesia. Throughout his four years of service, he ended up seeing his best friend die in front of him, which understandably scarred him for the rest of his life. How could this wonderful man that I briefly knew have so much pain in his past but manage to move past it?

On the brighter side, before the war ended, while docked in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he met my grandmother Sophie and they were married three weeks later. A true old-fashioned love story. 

After returning from the war, my grandmother and he bought a home and had eleven children, all within close age of each other. My mother was the tenth. Even with little money, he and my grandmother provided their eleven children with a full and wonderful life and even managed to remain as in love as they were when they first met.

My mother concluded the story and I sat there in amazement. It was a lot to take in especially for a young girl. I couldn't wrap my head around how much hardship he endured, and how he still managed to be such a kind and loving person.

I always think back to his story when I have trouble persevering through hard times. It reminds me to always remain true to myself and kind to others. It is truly remarkable the impact his story has on my everyday life, even after he has passed on.

© Olivia Healy. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.