Portraying his grandfather thus is both an honor and a matter of serious responsibility, as Minor revealed.
“Telling this story is at once liberating and daunting for me,” he said. “There is a fine line that I tread, as I maintain my identity as a grandson while shifting into first-person as my grandfather. It happens during the show. I begin as me, transform into Nathaniel Hardin Massie and then shift back to the grandson as the narrative concludes. With each run-through and each performance, I am immersed more completely into that time and this man’s mind and heart.
“Since I came to love and adore them as I developed from a young boy into a teen, I had a tremendous respect for who they were and what they asked of me,” he added. “They helped to define my sense of self, of purpose, of right and wrong and of what they called the esprit de corps. They had a great friendship with each other, and they so valued the friends who were such a part of the living of their lives. They had a sense of fun that came out in the way they read to us or told the stories of Kipling, Twain, Lewis Carroll or of the Bible.”
When he was old enough, 8 or so, Minor would accompany his grandfather to graduation ceremonies at VMI. He recalled John Glenn being a commencement speaker, circa 1960.
“I would attempt to play the VMI fight song solo on my cornet in front of the retired brass and gathered professors,” Minor remembered. “Granddaddy was orphaned at 6, when his father died unexpectedly, and his mother left him with an uncle, Dr. Robert K. Massie, Sr. So VMI became Big Hardin’s place of identity and destiny. All of these memories come flooding back when I step into the time, place and emotional context of these letters.
“So this show is completely different from anything I’ve ever attempted,” he added. “It’s honest acting, a serious portrayal of a time when Big Hardin was transforming into full manhood by serving his country with the training he had learned. At VMI, they are proponents of the citizen-soldier. There is a revered statue of Cincinnatus, the famed Roman general, who had become a farmer but returned to military service when his country demanded.”
To prepare, Minor delved deeply into the history of the Great War.
The show is, he said, “a story I’m proud to tell,” adding that the research “has deepened my respect for all of our veterans and service personnel, while simultaneously giving me a bitter taste for the stupidity, cruelty and waste of war and the big business of waging war.”
Had it not been for Vietnam, Minor says he might have gone to VMI. Instead, he went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1970-74), where he protested the Vietnam War. And things come full circle: Minor has donated his grandfather’s letters and related World War I scrapbook to the Southern Historical Collection at UNC’s Wilson Library.
“When I found the letters, I realized it was a gift that I should share by bringing them to life,” he said. “I did so in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I.”
Thus the show’s first performances co-incided with that event in November of last year. Minor’s performances were free; his way of giving back to the community in honor of his grandfather and all military veterans and service personnel. The donations garnered at the door were evenly divided between the Veteran Bridge Home, Charlotte Affordable Housing and Minor’s neighborhood association.
“It was a privilege to pay tribute and give public thanks for the lives of my grandparents,” he said. “I am a better man for having done so. And I couldn’t have done this without the encouragement of one of Lincolnton’s finest native daughters, my wife of 34 years, Linda Dellinger, nor without the help and support of our two boys, Massie and Tucker. And I would be remiss if I did not include Linda’s sister, Frances (Tachi), who worked so hard to ensure the success of my initial performances.
“When folks recognized what I was doing and why, the support swelled like a river running clear in the spring,” he added. “I have so much to be thankful for, such as Walter Clark and his lovely family, for seeing the vision and making it happen in Lincolnton. And the great thing is that this show now has a life of its own. I’m trying to find the venues around the city and the state that will help me invite veterans from all eras to experience what I have come to know about my grandfather.”
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