I Traveled 3000 Miles to Ask My Grandpa The Meaning of Life7 min read
My grandpa is 97-years old. He lives 3000 miles away and I love him very much. I wanted to make sure, for my sake, for my family’s sake, for the world’s sake, that there was some record of his story, a memory of the amazing man he is. Here is my journey traveling 3000 miles to interview my grandpa.
I thought doing this would be impossible.
There were a couple of things standing in my way:
- COVID restrictions
- Medical School
- Bringing crates of equipment across the Atlantic ocean
I needed to figure out how to:
- Get by every COVID regulation
- Be allowed to take time off of medical school
- Have the gear ready and waiting for me in the UK when I do this interview
I was also thinking, wow, this is an important task. How do I not mess it up? How do I make sure I don’t come across as stupid or ask annoying questions during the interview? The only thing I could do was ask for advice from my family. Ask them to help me with some questions; ask them to guide me.
It was likely I would mess up, possibly even fail, but I had to try.
Obstacle #1: COVID Restrictions
I booked my flight.
Luckily I was still able to fly into the UK. I have dual citizenship in the UK and the USA because my whole family is from the UK, making my life easier. I needed a negative test within 48 hours before I flew and fully uploaded my vaccine information.
I went to the airport the day before my flight and had my COVID test.
It was negative.
Obstacle #2: Medical School
Our medical school is extremely strict when it comes to missing days during our hospital training. For example, we are allowed two “personal days” per rotation for a maximum of four personal days for the entire year. My grandpa’s birthday was on Sunday. That meant I would probably need to fly out on Thursday Night, arrive Friday, interview Saturday, birthday Sunday, and fly home that Monday. I was going to need to take these two personal days, Friday and Monday.
I formatted my request and prayed. For days I paced and worried that it would either get denied or I would have to repeat a rotation. Three days after submitting, I was doing some flaschards and received an email ping, I was cleared.
Obstacle #3: The Equipment
Finally, I needed a couple of things. This is where things felt like they would be impossible:
- A studio, or set, to record the video
- Two High Quality Microphones
- Two microphone stands
- Two high quality cameras
- Camera Tripods
- Lighting stands
How was I going to get lighting, tripods, and lighting stands across the Atlantic? The cost alone of shipping would be ridiculous.
Luckily, as I said earlier, my entire family lives in the UK. I started thinking about who would be ok with me shipping boxes and boxes of gear to them. Amazon and aunt to the rescue.
My aunt would accept them, I called her, realizing that I would be at a loss if this failed, and she said it was ok!
The hotel where my grandpa’s party was had “office spaces.” The room was arranged to be converted into a podcast studio (a table in the middle with two chairs on either side). I had my two quality cameras I could bring over and my microphones.
I had all the ducks in a row, now came the actual hard part, doing it.
This was actually going to happen!
My flight and journey were all set up. As the time got closer when I was going to go to the airport, I realized I would need to have some good questions prepared. I am asking questions for my entire family, the future generations. It’s a big responsibility.
I had been collecting questions via emails for about a month. I had about four pages of questions. Themes were coming up:
- What was WWII like?
- What was it like being in the RAF
- How have you lead such a successful life? Created such an amazing family?
I haven’t said it before, but my grandpa is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known. I am, of course, biased, but he is intelligent, funny, creative, and a true icon.
I have fond memories of flying to the UK as a child and coming to their house, they would always have food ready for us, and my brother and I would then go upstairs to sleep before being immediately treated to more food. My grandpa would then, every night before bed, come up and tell us a story. A story he entirely created on his own, so every night, it was a new story.
Can you tell the greatness of this man yet? I had my work cut out for me. I wanted to do my family proud, do a good interview, and make sure I show people outside of my family, people who don’t even know the greatness of Eric Gergel, how great he is.
The flight and trip were fairly straightforward. We landed, went to the hotel, slept, explored London, had a night out, and slept.
Then, it was the day of the interview. I planned to start recording with him at 2:00 pm, so I went downstairs to set up at 9 am. The setup took way longer than expected. At 10:30 I had only gotten all the gear unpacked, I still had to set it all up, and we had lunch booked for noon.
I recruited my brother, father, and mother to help me out. This sped things up, and by 12, I was finally mostly ready.
I put one headphone to my ears to test the audio and had a near meltdown when I couldn’t hear my audio from my audio interface until I realized I hadn’t turned up the volume on the actual device. It’s funny when you are super anxious, you tend to forget the essential things, or at least, I do.
Then it was lunchtime. I was still in my PJ’s because I had been setting up the whole time. My mind was so fixed on the actual interview, the main reason I flew out here, that I could barely eat, I could hardly think, and, so, changing into normal clothes never entered my mind.
I ran out of lunch early, showered, and changed in preparation for the interview. I walked down to the prepared podcast interview room, turned off the air conditioning so the noise wouldn’t be heard in the microphones, and sat down.
My grandpa walked in and sat down opposite me.
There was nothing left to do, to start, just to do it.
I looked at my grandpa, looked at my prepared intro statement, and started.
It was a shaky start. I don’t know why as I was with one of my best friends, but I was nervous. After my statement and some quick back-and-forth, we fell into our normal rhythm.
I learned amazing things about WWII, his relationship with my grandmother, and his thoughts about life in general.
I think it went well. He later said he enjoyed it so much, that it was one of the best times he had in recent memory. I felt the same.
And then, that was that. The interview I flew 3000 miles to do, was over.
I hugged him, we had a drink, and then let the rest of the family in.
I am glad I did this. It turned out to be a good interview. However, I’m sure a dog would perform an equally as good interview with my grandpa. The conversation would inevitably turn to the humdrum life of sleep, running, and catching, and how the forever war between cats and dogs is just the media’s doing. My grandpa would make the story interesting, he always does.
I flew back to the US, edited the footage, and uploaded it to a place where my relatives could see it. They were all pleased. I only received nice words. In hindsight, I think the interview went well. I definitely asked an awkward question or two, interrupted maybe when I shouldn’t have, but, overall, my grandpa saved me with his forever interesting way.
I love my grandpa very much and am so lucky to have spent this extra time with him. A memory that is not only ironed into the internet but, now, ironed into my brain, a memory that I will never forget. Thank you grandpa for an amazing three hours and for being the best grandpa a kid could ever ask for.
The interview took place on September 11th, 2021.
My grandpa died peacefully one month later on October 11th, 2021.
I will always love you very much grandpa.