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I’ve always loved that saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
It speaks to me of optimism, of unity and hope. As a child, it reassured me to think that so many were interested in my well-being. And as an adult, it encourages me to think of my village’s many willing, outstretched hands as antidote to the enormity of life’s responsibilities and the wicked things of this world.
But today, that phrase has a new nuance for me. It makes me think of the members of my family who aren’t actually my relatives.
Today, that phrase makes me think of my Grandpa Ted.
I never really knew my biological grandfathers. My dad’s father, Irvan, died before I was born. And my mother’s father, Homer, died when I was young. I have memories of Homer feeding me Twinkies when I was little, and I remember him to be kind and loving. But he died before I ever registered what a grandfather was. I didn’t even know what I was missing.
But then I met Ted.
Edward Willmoth is as British as they come. He was born in 1923 and grew up drinking black English tea practically from the time he was a baby. He’s lived in London his whole life, and fought with the British special forces in Burma during World War II. He cared for his ailing wife until the day she died, even breaking his back twice lifting her into bed.
His life has been hard and, at times, he is still haunted by the traumatic experiences he endured both as a child and a soldier. But he always balances life’s pain with a positive eye toward the future, and a poetic understanding and acceptance of his past.
When I first met Ted in his little flat just off the Bayswater tube stop, north of Kensington Gardens in London, he was 79. He gave me a Pink Lady apple and a chunky Kit Kat every time I came to see him. He was thoughtful and stubborn and kind and personal. He made observations about me in the first few months I knew him that few have iterated in the course of years.
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