I was at my grandfather’s memorial. Distraught and angry, I’d stopped fighting tears and stood in my aunt and uncle’s kitchen, trying to hide in plain sight. A young woman approached me, introduced herself by a name I don’t remember. “I worked for your grandpa,” she said. I nodded and tried to smile. “I recently had a baby,” she continued. I couldn’t care less. She could tell, she stammered quickly to keep my attention, “and before they knew — before I knew it was a boy, everyone was suggesting baby names for me. Your grandpa came up to me one day and said, ‘You should name her Thea.'” The young woman smiled and I stared, confused. “I think you were his favorite,” she said. I thanked her — or maybe I didn’t. But I thought about her, for a long time after.
I’d been named after a woman my grandfather dated when he was stationed in Vienna after World War II. That was the story I’d been told, that was all I’d gotten about the original Thea.
My grandfather had loved all of his grandchildren ferociously. Favoritism was not something he exhibited. I did not believe I was his favorite; I believed that the original Thea had been special to him. So special that he did what he could to make sure that her name would live on.
I have decided to try to solve the puzzle of Thea and the puzzle of my grandfather. By retracing the steps of his infantry through Europe, interviewing his peers and researching the era, I aim to discover a bit about my grandfather as a young man, along with something about the original Thea and what it means to carry her name and their memory.