Zane Gray was my grandfather, named after the much recognized and prolific novelist. The author was known for his love of writing stories of the old West with the colors, hues, and backdrops that romanticized the characters and the adventures they experienced. Much like my grandfather, the author also enjoyed baseball, expressive photography, and Americana. As an adult, I now see the parallels to much of what the famous author and my own grandfather had in common.
As a young kid, much of our time was spent in one of three places; the “shop,” the “museum,” and, the “mountains.” We would spend the summers at the family-owned upholstery business, known to us as “the shop,” partly containing a large warehouse full of furniture in its various stages of completion, to which we quickly claimed as our own frontier playground.
In the afternoons, and on many weekends, our grandfather, Gray, was known to be hiding out in the “museum,” an unattached building that sat behind my grandparents’ house which was frequented by many tourists, visitors, friends, and also, many of us. I have many memories of quietly opening the solid thick door to the entrance, and almost instantly being consumed by the musky time-capsule of a place that it was. A faint sound of the big-band music of Glen Miller could be heard off in the corner, and I would weave my way through the display cabinets of collected items over the years. We had all heard the stories numerous times — stories from the 2nd World War, of France, of driving jeeps across infantry fields, how proud he was to serve in the Army, and how important it was not to forget.
There, in that one large room, sat carefully-curated artifacts from a time others my age only read about in history books. Helmets made of iron, rifles, grenades, bayonets, swords, and uniforms — all worn by men who fought the long World War that was just barely 50 years ago at that time. On the largest wall, as one entered, draped across the span of the ceiling was a large flag bearing the symbol of the swastika. To us – it served as a huge reminder of what evil looked like, that it had been fought and conquered, with many lives – and to never forget what my grandfather did to serve his American country to defeat hatred, defend freedom, and to learn from our mistakes of the past.
My grandfather’s literary predecessor died in October of 1939 just over one month after the World War began. I can’t help but think the newly named Zane Gray took on the spirit of adventure, curiosity, faith, and human history along with him until he left this earth in 2004. Looking back now, as an adult, to my grandfather’s life — I see that I, too, have parallels in my own life with how my grandfather lived. He had an interest in artistic photography, preserving history, art, and documenting the lives we lived through every moment, curating creative spaces to educate the world around us. Lately, I have wondered how Zane Gray would react, seeing this symbol of hatred resurrect itself in flags, in speeches and marches, in hearts of men on our American streets, for something he fought for and spent his soul on to prevent again.
The answer may be found in our old friend, Zane Gray, the novelist:
“Recipe For Greatness – To bear up under loss; To fight the bitterness of defeat and the weakness of grief; To be victor over anger; To smile when tears are close; To resist disease and evil men and base instincts; To hate hate and to love love; To go on when it would seem good to die; To look up with unquenchable faith in something ever more about to be. That is what any man can do, and be great.”
– Justin Baker