Perspectives: Stories connect us to our heritage

OPINION – Milestones in life aren’t always clearly marked. We don’t even realize we have passed some of them until they are already receding in the rear-view mirror.

L-R: Vera Badger, Jack Badger, circa | Photo courtesy of Bryan Hyde, St. George News
L-R: Vera Badger, Jack Badger, circa 2004 | Photo courtesy of Bryan Hyde, St. George News

But some are unmistakable.

When I got the word this past weekend that my mom’s uncle Jack Badger had passed away just short of his 99th birthday, it was a definite milestone in our family history.

He was the last of my maternal grandparents’ siblings. His passing marks the curtain falling on a generation of truly remarkable family members.

It has also provided an opportunity to teach my children about how easily we miss opportunities to get to know our forebears while they are still with us.

I never knew my paternal grandparents since both of them died before I was born. Grandma and Grandpa Badger were the only grandparents I had.

Like any grandson worth his salt, I loved to visit with my grandparents. However, as a youngster, I was slow to appreciate their siblings and extended family. I tended to view them as kindly older faces to which I couldn’t attach a name.

It wasn’t until our family reunions started to coincide with funerals that the light went on for me. I made the time to sit down with them and to listen to their stories. My sense of urgency increased with each funeral.

Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the names, faces, and stories I had heard my mom talk about began to come together. The more I learned about the lives they’d lived, the more I realized that I had been growing up in the company of giants.

Jack Badger was the last giant standing of his family generation.

He and my grandfather were brothers and spent the better part of their lives building in Southern Idaho. They were incredibly skilled carpenters and craftsman who created innumerable handmade treasures for their descendants to treasure.

Uncle Jack served during WWII and participated in the liberation of Europe. He never spoke of his war experiences to me. But I’d long been aware of a unique connection I shared with him thanks to his time as a soldier.

My grandpa had spent his entire life hunting and fishing all over Southern Idaho. As a boy, I remembered how my dad used to talk about how he’d love to buy my grandpa’s hunting rifle.

I’d only seen the rifle once when I was a kid as we peered through its scope to catch a closer glimpse of Comet Kohoutek as it passed by.

When I was in my early 20s, I spied a classified ad in the local paper for a custom Mauser rifle for sale. The phone number looked familiar and when I called it, my grandfather answered.

I asked if he would sell it to me and he was very excited to learn that I was interested in his rifle and that it could stay in our family. He told me, “Bryan, I’d love to just give you this rifle but there’s so much history attached to it.”

We agreed upon a price and over the next six months I paid off the rifle. When I took possession of it, I learned the story behind my grandpa’s hunting rifle.

Jack Badger had sent home two German Mausers that he had recovered from the battlefield; one for himself and one for my grandpa. Each rifle had to be disassembled down to the tiniest screw and they arrived wrapped in an old parachute.

Grandpa worked as the construction foreman at the Minidoka prisoner of war camp where German and Italian prisoners were held. After receiving the rifles, my grandfather quietly snuck them into the camp and had one of the German prisoners show him how to properly reassemble the rifles.

Being a woodworker, my grandad had ordered a beautiful piece of English walnut to build a custom stock for it. He later found an old gunsmith who finished turning it into a custom hunting rifle.

Jack Badger, WWII era | Photo courtesy of Bryan Hyde, St. George News
Jack Badger with one of his children, WWII era | Photo courtesy of Bryan Hyde, St. George News

It was and still is a work of art.

Over the next few decades, that rifle put a lot of venison and elk on my grandparents’ dinner table. Now I understood why grandpa couldn’t just give it to me. He wanted me to appreciate the story and the heritage behind it.

The old Mauser is only one of many heirlooms that my grandpa and his brother left behind. Most of their families have furniture, clocks and even toys that were handcrafted by these amazing men.

Things are nice but they take on deeper meaning when they are connected to the stories of our loved ones.

Are we inviting those who went before us to tell their stories? Are we sharing ours with those who will follow?

The day will come when we’ll be glad we did.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Twitter: @youcancallmebry

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