My grandfather was a WWII veteran. His hands were calloused, his shoulders were broad, and he was tall. Sometimes more bear than man. He grew up as an orphan along with his brothers after his parents and other siblings died at a young age and he was chosen by his new family for his ability to work hard and perform heavy, laboring tasks. Even the way he would tickle us was nearly painful as he would laugh about “the dive bombers are coming” and we would try to wiggle out of his grasp. There was a picture frame filled with his medals behind his recliner in the living room and we went to every local Memorial Day parade when he would wear the rest of his accolades on his chest or shoulder of his jacket. His matching hat always looked funny to me, but he never once thought so. He was so incredibly proud of this country and his fellow comrades –especially the ones that didn’t come back home with him.
And if you thought he was proud, you never met my grandmother. She wrote songs and poetry for the papers and published some of her patriotic works. When that flag went by in the parade with my grandfather and his brothers marching beside it, there was no doubt that you would be silent and hold your hand over your heart as it went by. Even in the teenage years when I thought I was “too cool” -my hand went over my heart without a hesitation. I couldn’t imagine there were any other options, in fact, at 34 years old, with my whole crew in tow, both grandparents now gone, my right hand still finds a way to my chest, as if it belongs there when a flag goes by.
Today we are observing Veteran’s Day. My grandfather was a Vet. He was a true patriot and loved this country. But he was so much more to all of us too. I think it’s easy to think of any branches of military as a collective group rather than each individual man or women that serves. So I just felt the need to share who else this man was to us.
He was humble. Do you know he was the first man in my life to apologize to me? I can’t even remember what happened, I think that I probably back talked my mother or bad mouthed something she had done. I didn’t have the perspective back then that she was his baby- and so he must’ve defended her. It’s all vague because whatever happened prior was forgotten. When he came to our house and apologized to me, I lost it. I just cried. I apologized that he had to apologize! I can’t to this day get that image out of my head. This strong towering man standing in my bedroom with a heartfelt apology. His heart was bigger than his the whole rest of his being.
My grandfather was also nothing if not fun! He was hilarious, picture my grandmother ready to go completely over the edge with a houseful of grandkids yelling from the kitchen “Stop riling them up, Fred!” and him tossing “just one more” pillow after our game had been called off. Or imagine a wheel borrow full of grandkids racing through the backyard with him at the helm- laughing while we are hanging on for our lives!
He was loving. Picture a man in his recliner covered in children while he is reading yet another story or think of him standing out behind our garage yelling “ HO, HO, HO” on Christmas Eve so that we would go running into our bed’s awaiting Santa allowing our parents to start moving gifts from the basement out under our tree.
Picture every part of this because it’s all of who he was. Yes, he was a Veteran. This same man who recalled hiding in thick brush listening for the enemy walking by or waking up at night years later hearing planes overhead was the same man who was able to show me what to expect from a father or husband someday. His heart and his soul were red, white, and blue all the way- and yet he spoke in lullabies and laughter.
Happy Veteran’s Day! May we take some time to think on the many sacrifices, including family time that is given by our Vets in combat and in service.