On a Learning Curve

Life may not be easy, but it's always an adventure.

A Good Day to Be Born


Today is a good day to have a birthday. In fact, November 5 is the birthday of my Grandpa, Grandma, Uncle Gene, and Seth, the youngest son of my college roommate.

Seth turns 8 today and holds a special place in many hearts; he was adopted from Guatemala, and he is named after our oldest son Seth. He is funny, smart, and part of a troop of 3 brothers. Happy birthday, Seth!

Grandpa Grenfell would be turning 110 today if he were still alive. He lived a remarkable life, but I never really knew him. He was nearly 50 when my mother was born, and he had several strokes when I was young. He died shortly after our family moved to Hawaii; I was just 5 and cried my eyes out because my mother was leaving us with my father–who couldn’t cook anything besides hot dogs–to return to Virginia for the funeral.

A visit to Arlington National Cemetery, August 2012.

A visit to Arlington National Cemetery, August 2012.

What I know of my grandfather is the stuff of American history. Elton Waters Grenfell retired from the U.S. Navy as a three-star admiral. During World War 2, Jumping Joe Grenfell commanded the USS Gudgeon, the first submarine to take out a Japanese war ship. He survived a plane crash, served as commander of the Pacific and Atlantic submarine fleets, and helped mold the modern-day submarine fleet. I wish I had a copy of the picture of him and President Kennedy in serious conversation.

At a decoration ceremony as CO of the Gudgeon.

Oh, and Grandpa loved my Grandma very much.

Martha Fronk Lindsey Grenfell was a third-generation military wife. Her father was an Army doctor who retired in Hawaii. She married Gene Lindsey and had two children before he was shot down over the Pacific in the Battle of Midway. She met and married my grandfather during World War 2 and had three more children; my mother is her youngest.

She was an officer’s wife and took her job very seriously. She was an expert at hosting social events and used her time to serve others as well. She was a founding member of the Dolphin Scholarship, which has been funding college educations for submariners’ families for over 50 years. She ran the thrift shop at Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia, for more than a decade, too.

Sarah with Grandma Grenfell at her 90th birthday party, 2005.

Sarah with Grandma Grenfell at her 90th birthday party, 2005.

She loved traveling, the Redskins, and the Republican Party. She loved her children and 15 grandchildren. I have all sorts of wonderful memories of snuggling with her in bed while she read her morning paper, shopping and going out for lunch, and listening to her recount anecdotes of her long life. She was intelligent, staunchly conservative, and slightly nutty. In a word, she was a delightful grandmother. She wasn’t much of a cook, but family dinners at her house were always interesting.

Grandma Grenfell sandwiched between me and Ryan at our wedding reception.

Grandma Grenfell sandwiched between me and Ryan at our wedding reception.

I brought Ryan to meet her soon after our second date. Ryan was a second lieutenant at Quantico and had been invited to the commandant’s Fourth of July reception. I was his date, and we managed to navigate the social formalities of a receiving line and reception of a Washington event. As we told Grandma about our evening, she told us all sorts of things about General Charles Krulak, our party’s host. She called him Chuck and told us he had been a playmate of Uncle Gene’s. She knew his parents well. We just stared at her with open mouths.

A few months later, Ryan took temporary orders to Andrews Air Force Base so that he could be close to me during a break in flight training. Like countless cousins, he lived with Grandma Grenfell for a couple of months. Years later he told me that during his first week there, she looked him straight in the eye and asked him when he planned to propose to me. It took him just three more months.

If I had access to family scrapbooks, I could fill pages with photos. Since that’s not possible at the moment, I’ll leave you with a few memories of my Uncle Gene. He was 14 years older than my mother, and she adored him. He was my godfather; he was also a submarine commander. He knew something about everything, and usually greeted you by asking, “How the hell are you, kid?” He footed the bill for my college graduation lunch, and he hired my brother one summer to sit around and discuss the gray paint he was creating for Navy ships. He died of lung cancer about a year after Ryan and I married. I know that his family–his wife Beth, my three cousins, his grandchildren, and his brother and sisters–miss him every day.

2005: Uncle Steve, Grandma, Aunt Mary, Aunt Big, and my mother Jane.

2005: Uncle Steve, Grandma, Aunt Mary, Aunt Bit, and my mother Jane.


2 thoughts on “A Good Day to Be Born

  1. Very sweet memories. I miss my Grandma!

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