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Nathan Hansen's column: Everyone's got a story to tell

When I was younger my grandfather -- my dad’s dad -- started writing stories about his life and sending them out to his grandkids. He called them Grandpa Win Stories. Because his name was Win. And he was our grandpa. It was pretty self-explanatory.

Grandpa Win died earlier this year, but I still have those stories. They’re collected in a three-ring binder he gave out as a gift for Christmas of 1997.

I know that because the date is on the cover. It’s a nice gift, but my memory’s not that good.

People tell me they can hear my grandpa in my writing, which is pretty nice. His stories have way fewer jokes about the Internet and Justin Bieber, though.

Now, my mom’s dad is taking up pen and paper. Or, more accurately, he’s taking up keyboard and computer screen. He’s started writing stories about his own life, mostly focused on his military service during and immediately after World War II. My grandpa, a pilot, was never in combat. He spent time ferrying planes around the Pacific following the end of the war. He was also stationed in Japan for a time during the post-war occupation.

All things considered, it doesn’t seem like a bad gig. You got to see the world, and nobody was shooting at you.

That’s not to say there wasn’t danger. One of my grandpa’s stories is about a terrible storm that came up during one of his flights. Four planes took off that day. Two crashed into mountains, killing everyone on board. Another landed in a field. My grandpa’s was the only one to make it back to base.

Another story is about the first flight my grandpa made in a P-38. He found out about a half-hour before takeoff he’d gotten the assignment. He’d never flown the plane before, but he figured it couldn’t be that tough. So, he did it.

There was another P-38 on that flight. That pilot, apparently having suffered a medical problem mid-flight, crashed into a tiny island near Manila.

About that incident, my grandpa wrote, without any apparent irony: “With the exception of my partner’s crashing into a small jungle island 50 miles south of Manila, my first P-38 adventure was quite uneventful.”

This is a pretty good sign my writing style differs a bit from my grandpa’s, because I’d tend to consider my flying partner crashing in a fireball something more than “quite uneventful.”

As my grandpa has written these stories I have added photos. I do it with the same program we use to lay out this paper each week. It’s not hard to do, and I like reading the stories.

I might have to reconsider, though. Because while my father’s father was content to limit his writing to mailed messages and binder-based collections, my mom’s dad appears to have bigger ideas.

One of his stories was printed in his hometown newspaper in Arlington. Then, he submitted a story to Flying magazine about his first loop-the-loop. That one generated some controversy. A Flying reader wrote in to complain that the magazine was promoting reckless piloting. The magazine ran the same letter two months in a row. Either they took the issue really seriously or they need more letters to the editor.

Now, things are getting even bigger. Grandpa sent two of his recent stories to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space magazine. They bought them for $500 each.

As my brother pointed out, this was probably poor negotiating on the magazine’s part. My grandpa probably would have let them have the stories for nothing.

Still, this means my grandpa now gets paid way more per story than I do.

I could try to sell my own stories, I suppose. But my grandpa’s got something of an advantage. His story about nearly dying in a terrible storm has a little something I can’t match with the story of the time I went biking and it rained pretty hard.

Oh, well. I guess it’s just Bieber jokes for me.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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