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Michele Marchetti: Wisdom an Indelible Trait from Paterno's Generation

by on January 25, 2012 6:00 AM

I’ve been meaning to record an interview with my grandparents ever since I heard the first StoryCorps on NPR.

After years of saying I was going to do it, I finally remembered to pack a recorder with me on a trip to see my family in N.J. As I hit record, I took note of the timing:

Today was the day Joe Paterno died.

The moment I heard that JoePa had cancer, I thought of my grandparents, particularly my 93-year-old grandfather. Both men are known for their brilliance and, some would say, stubborn will.

My grandfather ran the family trucking business well into his 80s, way past the time that many people expected him to retire. In his younger days he was a math professor at Johns Hopkins University. Today he spends his time doing the New York Times crossword puzzle and meeting friends for the kind of brain-boosting games that will hopefully keep him alive for another 10 years.

My grandfather taught me how to play backgammon, helped me with algebra and cried during all of my graduation ceremonies from 8th grade to Penn State.

My 7-year-old is currently studying his chess game.

During our interview, I asked my grandfather what lesson he wanted to impart to his great-grandchildren. After a long, thoughtful pause, he gave the following answer: “No matter what obstacle you come to, stick to your goals, stick to your ideals. Have the courage to go forward.”

It was a message I think JoePa would have appreciated.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a parent or because I’m getting closer to my 40s and further away from my 20s, but I’ve developed a greater appreciation for wisdom.

My grandparents lived through a war — my grandmother didn’t even see my grandfather for the first five years of their marriage — and a bankruptcy. They sacrificed for their children and grandchildren and taught each other that the business of raising kids and maintaining a marriage will kick the wind out of you on a regular basis, yet will reduce you to tears when you consider the moments of unbelievable happiness. These stories are our real inheritance.

One of the best parts about my time as managing editor of this website was editing Jay Paterno’s columns (the man really can write, so the fun was more in the reading). The stories bolstered my image of Joe Paterno as someone who built his life on two pillars: a love of education and family. They reminded me of the same traits— tolerance, hard work, and benevolence — I hope to foster in my own children.

On Sunday I stood next to my grandmother to watch on TV as Paterno was remembered at the Penn State Indiana basketball game. Tears welled up for just a second and I thought how silly it must seem to some of the other family members in the room. Possibly even wrong, in light of everything that’s transpired.

As we drove back into town Sunday night, those feelings quickly dissipated. The stadium gleamed, casting a spotlight on a snow bank where someone had written the words “JoePa” in huge letters. We passed groups of people coming from the vigil, and more were on their way to the statue.

Once again, I thought of my grandparents. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have them by my side through so many milestones. It’s something I tell my son all the time. Not many kids have great-grandparents who are still alive.

Pay attention, I tell him. You can learn something from them.

Michele Marchetti is a freelance writer and the former managing editor of Prior to moving to State College, she spent more than 10 years writing for national magazines. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Glamour, U.S. News & World Report, Runner's World, Good Housekeeping, Working Mother, Yoga Life and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter at or contact her at
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