One of the pictures that I have in my office was taken in 1966, at the wedding of my mom’s younger sister, Mary Ann. There are four people in the picture — me, my two cousins, Harry and Tommy LaHood, and our grandmother, Cecilia (Ceil) LaHood. My cousins and I are standing together with our arms around each other’s shoulders. I’m in the middle, my cousin Harry is to my right, and Tommy is to my left. Grandma Ceil is standing behind us with a smile on her face. She looks like she could have been our Guardian Angel.
At the time of the picture, my cousin Harry and I were eight years old, Tommy was seven, and Grandma Ceil was 55. The picture is in my office where I can see it while I’m sitting at my desk. It’s a reminder to me that three of the four people in the picture have been gone for many years now and I’m the only one who is still living. Tommy died in September 1970, as a result of a tragic accident. He was 11. Harry died from medical complications in 1999. He was 41. Grandma Ceil died in 2004, when she was 94.
The two questions that have been circulating in my mind for several years now are, Why did God allow my two cousins to be taken away from me at such an early age? Why did He allow me to continue to live for so many years after my cousins passed away?
The only answer I’ve been able to come up with is that God kept me on Earth because there was still a lot of work that He wanted me to do to bring other people closer to Him. As the years have passed, I have become more anxious about the work that I believe God expects me to do. I get frustrated with the fact that I have failed to accomplish many of the goals that I set for myself.
I thought about Harry, Tommy, and Grandma Ceil last month after President Biden and the generals who were advising him ordered our military troops to evacuate from Afghanistan during the middle of the night. For some unexplained reason, when our military abandoned Afghanistan, they left behind thousands of Americans to fend for themselves. To make matters worse, the military also left behind our highly sophisticated weapons for the Taliban terrorists to use to hunt down and kill their enemies, which include American citizens.
What was it about the Afghanistan situation that reminded me of my cousins and my grandmother?
During the summer of 1970, when my cousin Harry and I were 12 and Tommy was 11, Grandma Ceil invited us over to her house to spend a few nights. It was one of the many occasions we were allowed to escape from our own homes, so we could enjoy each other’s company without the restrictions that our parents placed on us at home. It was also an opportunity to eat like royalty because Grandma Ceil always cooked great Lebanese food for us while we were at her house.
After we settled in at Grandma’s house, my cousin Harry asked her whether she had ever heard of General George S. Patton. Harry frequently rode his bike around the area where his family lived and had noticed that the movie, Patton, was being shown at a movie theater that was located near his parents’ house. Grandma Ceil told us that she was familiar with General Patton because she had lived through World War II and she knew several men from the local Lebanese community who had fought in the war. One of those men was her brother.
Grandma told us that during World War II most of the families in the area where she lived were Catholic and were of Lebanese descent. Many of those families had a son, husband, brother, or relative who had been drafted to fight in the war. Every evening, the women in the neighborhood got together outside on the street to pray a rosary for the safety of their men and for an end to the war.
When Grandma offered to take us to see the movie, we eagerly accepted. For three young, ambitious boys, the prospect of seeing a war movie generated a lot of excitement.
To this day, I have vivid memories of some of the scenes in the movie, one of which was when General Patton stood up on a stage and gave a speech to his troops before they went into battle. It was a tough, no-holds-barred speech in which Patton told his young troops what they were about to face and what his expectations were for them. One of the comments he made that stuck with me was, “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
History has shown that Patton had the confidence, experience, and killer instinct that was necessary to lead his troops into a battle. He was a proud American whose primary goal was to crush his opponents by learning as much as he could about the German generals and their strategies, so he could always stay one step ahead of them. He was a bold warrior who was not afraid to bend the rules or butt heads with the politicians and armchair generals in Washington, D.C.
Last month, when our military abandoned their weapons and their fellow Americans in Afghanistan, I thought about General Patton and wished he had been in Afghanistan when the order to cut and run came from Washington, D.C. From what I know about Patton, I believe that he would have risked being court-martialed by doing everything in his power to delay the evacuation of the military while his troops moved American citizens out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible.
After I thought about Patton, the memory of sitting with Grandma Ceil and my cousins in the Beverly Theater on Knoxville Avenue in Peoria played out in mind. Then, for a brief moment, it was as though we were all together again for a sleepover at Grandma’s house — the excitement, the laughter, the food, the love. It was all there. Then it vanished. Was it a glimpse of what it’s like to be in Heaven? I hope so.
After I married my wife Georgette in 1980, Grandma Ceil cornered me and told me how fortunate I was to be Georgette’s husband. She warned me that if I ever mistreated Georgette, I would have to answer to her. She had a stern look on her face and poked her index finger at me while she issued her warning. When she did that, she reminded me of the religious sisters at St. Mark’s Catholic grade school who always poked their index fingers at me when they reprimanded me.
I was not offended by Grandma’s warning. She knew about the mischief my cousins and I had gotten into and she wanted to make sure I understood that it was time for me to grow up and become more responsible and respectful toward others, especially the woman I had chosen for my wife.
That was the first time Grandma Ceil ever lectured me or ordered me to do something. Until then, I could do no wrong. She always treated me like I was a prince. But now that I was married, she made it clear to me that she did not want me to let her down.
After her initial order for me to behave myself, almost every time I saw Grandma she would begin our conversation with, How is Georgette doing? I hope you’re treating her the right way. You’re being good to her, aren’t you? In the legal world, that last question is what is called a leading question.
One of the reasons I wanted to marry Georgette was because I knew she would be a great mother to our children. She knew that I didn’t want anyone raising our children except for her. I think she was relieved when I told her that because even though she had a promising career, there was nothing more important to her than staying home so she could raise her own children.
One of the things that I did not think about when we got married was what type of grandmother Georgette would be to our future grandchildren. It didn’t occur to me to think that far ahead. I was only focused on the present moment and our immediate future together.
After our older children grew up, got married, and started having children of their own, I quickly realized that Georgette was treating them the same way that Grandma Ceil treated me and her other grandchildren — with compassion, respect, love, and by creating special opportunities for one-on-one time to go on unique adventures with her.
Grandma Ceil was always willing to make the sacrifices that were necessary to develop personal, loving, long-term relationships with each of her grandchildren. Georgette does that exact same thing with each of her grandchildren. That’s not an easy task when you consider the fact that we currently have 25 grandchildren, with two more who will be joining our family next year.
Last month, Georgette published an article on her website (GeorgetteWilliams.com) about how special her grandchildren are to her. I wanted to share what she wrote with you, so here it is, starting with the title of the article:
There was a prayer that the priest who presided over our wedding said when my husband and I were standing at the altar — May you live to see your children’s children.
I hear that prayer at many of the weddings I attend, and I always pray that the newly married couple will have the opportunity to experience the fulfillment of that prayer.
Motherhood is one of the most beautiful blessings that God gave me, but as much as I love being a mother, the joy and happiness I have experienced as a mother is multiplied every time a new grandchild of mine is born into this world.
I love it when my grandchildren run into my arms for a hug and kiss as soon as they see me. Some of them play hard-to-get and I have to run after them for my hugs and kisses, but that’s okay with me because I would chase them all day long if I had to, just to be able to hold them in my arms.
When my grandchildren are at my house, they know where the books and toys are, where to find their favorite snacks, and where we keep the batteries for the little cars they like to ride. I love the way they make themselves at home whenever they are in my house.
But it’s not only about hugs, kisses, and having fun at their grandparents’ house. What’s more important than that is my commitment to pray for each of them every day:
● I pray that they will always be faithful to God and seek to know, love, and serve Him in this world, so they can be happy with Him in Heaven for all eternity.
● I pray that they will be great leaders who will influence others to dedicate their lives to God.
● I pray that they will always know they are an important part of our family and that I love them.
● I pray that they will learn how to work so they will always be able to support themselves and their future families.
● I pray that they will learn how to be respectful, courteous, charitable, and patient with everyone they come into contact with.
● I pray that my grandchildren will acknowledge that with every gift that God has given them there is an obligation to use that gift to help others grow closer to Him.
● I pray that they will accept whatever suffering comes into their lives and recognize it as an important and necessary path to wisdom and holiness.
What a great gift it has been for me to share in my grandchildren’s lives. Of all the women in the world, God chose me to be a part of their lives. I have held them, fed them, changed their diapers, held their hands as they learned to walk, and cheered them on in their accomplishments. I have eaten meals they have cooked, and they have shared stories with me about their activities and adventures.
I have had well-meaning people tell me that I do too much for my grandchildren and that I need to set aside more time for myself. But those people don’t understand how much joy and happiness I feel when I am with each one of these beautiful children.
How can I ever repay Almighty God for all the precious grandchildren that he has blessed me with? I feel as though the least I can do to show my gratitude is to teach them through my words and example how they can find joy and happiness by serving the people they love the same way that I serve them.
I know that if I do my “job” as a grandmother the way our Lord expects me to do it, my life will be filled with numerous gifts of treasured memories. Just as I have treasured memories of what my parents did for me while I was growing up, I also have treasured memories of shared experiences with my children and grandchildren.
When my husband and I were married over 40 years ago, I did not have enough wisdom or experience to understand what it would mean to me if God granted that special prayer request that was made by our priest — May you live to see your children’s children.