December 1970. My parents had been trying to have a baby for months to no avail. My mother, not being one with extraordinary patience (a trait she would pass on to her firstborn), lamented to her father.
“Mary,” Ed told her, “don’t you worry. I will talk to God myself and get you that baby!”
The Irish have a special connection with God, perhaps rooted in an appreciation for the fruits of the earth, particularly barley and hops, though possibly born from a shared love of college football.
In any case, his Irish eyes sparkled with that promise, a promise he apparently kept when a heart attack took his life two weeks later, as nine months after he died, I was born.
While I’ll always be grateful for his unquestionable pull with the Almighty, it did not come without loss. Ed left behind his son, a Marine who braved three tours in Vietnam, yet cannot hear “Danny Boy” without tears hitting his jaw. He left his daughter, my mom, who can’t even utter the words “Danny” and “Boy” without choking up. He left a hole that would echo with the hearty laughter of his seven grandchildren.
And he left his wife, Eleanor, the poster child for the Greatest Generation. They came of age during the Great Depression and lifted up their country without hesitation when called to fight overseas. Their grandparents passed down stories told from the Civil War; their grandchildren grew up under hard-won civil rights.
Ed and Eleanor’s generation understood words like patriotism, sacrifice and loyalty because they lived them. Their American idols fought wars, their courtships flourished in hand-written letters, and their reward was personal satisfaction for a life lived right. They listened to the radio, they read the newspaper, and they knew their neighbors. And they raised their children without wipe warmers, juice boxes or Wii.
They were not perfect, but compared to them, most of us today are relatively weak.
That strength of character and zest for life carried Eleanor through 40 years of widowhood. She never remarried because she was certain no one could measure up to Ed. Instead, she devoted those years to enjoying her grandchildren far and near with enough vigor and love for two; helping with laundry, packing our lunches, hosting sleepovers with pink bubble baths and Coca-Cola, culturing us with Cohan and Sinatra tunes. She was delighted to be in the delivery room when her first great-grandchild, Ellie, was born, and we could always count on her for M&Ms; and a laugh anytime we stopped by.
True to her generation, Eleanor loved us as much as she inspired us, never without her sharp sense of humor, right up to the day the pipes finally called her home after 96 years.
So Ed? Enjoy the bride you’ve lingered by on the other side. Know she sang that Ave for you and looked forward to being together again someday. In fact, we all do.
For Ed and Eleanor Dyer and their (greatest) generation.