He goes by a few different names in this big house of ours, Dad, Grandpa, Pops and most recently Pop-Pop, which evolved from the mind of a little guy who couldn’t get the hang of great-grandpa and was a variation on “double grandpa,” a joke told to him by his Papa. From what I’m told, this man has mellowed with age but to me he’s always been my one and only grandpa. The one who played baseball with me in the backyard, who set up the sprinkler in summer whenever I asked and who made silver dollar pancakes when I stayed overnight on the weekends. Watching him take great joy in my little ones everyday is like reliving my childhood. The memories of walks up the street to the playground, trips to the library with him and grandma, a day spent across the street swimming in their friends pool or maybe just simply lounging in the shade of the huge maple in their backyard, eating raspberries I had plucked from the bush by the house. (My kids do that too, but at our house now, making sure none make it inside.) He was also the Pops who enthusiastically dressed up as Geppetto the year I wanted to go as Pinocchio for Halloween, holding my strings all the way around the neighborhood, going into to almost every house to have our picture taken, calling it a night only when I was ready to head back.
Those are the mile markers of my youth. The moments that I forget until they come rushing back with a little nudge from a familiar word or glance, no longer meant for me but for my babes.
By the time I showed up on the scene he was retired and more laid back. More relaxed, less stressed and more fun. He was the only one I remember seeing plant a garden each year, lining tomatoes along the kitchen windowsill to ripen just a little bit more. The one who blew my little eight year old mind when he showed me how garlic grew under ground. And while it was a small garden, tucked against the back of their split-level house in the middle of suburbia, looking back now it was still amazing to me that you could grow food like that right in your backyard.
Now look at us!?!
He has been so many things in his 91 years, a devoted husband who took care of her, night and day, until she quietly and peacefully slipped away with all of us around her. A hardworking dad who often had two jobs and gave up a management position for a factory position because he couldn’t fire the guy down on the line who, like him, had a wife and kids at home. He was a son who took care of his mother for another 20 years after his father past away. A son-in-law who didn’t think twice about having his mother-in-law come to live with them. And a grandfather, who loves each of us and who proudly displayed photos, school papers, and letters we had written him, in the house he owned for over 60 years, until you were unsure if there was even a refrigerator underneath them.
But before all that, before all of us, he was a kid at a time when the world seemed to be falling apart. He signed up and ended up stationed in England, facing backwards out the end of a B-17, sitting on a milk crate, a gun between his legs watching the enemy fly right at him. He finished his 25 missions, only ever sustaining minor shrapnel wounds, and came home alive, unlike so many others.
He came home and grew a family.
And while I don’t agree that war is ever the answer, I do respect the hell out of our Pop-Pop because I don’t know many other people who have the fortitude to do what he did 25 times in a row.
When PJ was an infant we had the pleasure of accompanying him to the WWII memorial in DC and be witness to an extraordinary event. After we had finished our walk around and were about to leave, a large class of high schoolers were making their way into the memorial when their teacher spotted my grandfather, and upon realizing he was a veteran, asked if he would speak to the students. They talked for what seemed like over an hour, him telling his stories, the students engaging and asking questions unlike any high schoolers I had ever encountered. They took pictures with him, shook his hand and thanked him, not only for his time that day but for his service decades before. I sat near by in the shade, rocking my firstborn, in awe of the gift I was witnessing. These kids, who were likely, at least three generations removed from that time, experiencing history right before their eyes and a man who had come home after a scary, albeit extraordinary era, who had gone back to living his everyday life (creating three new generations of his own in the process) being honored by them.
My children have the great honor of spending some part of everyday with this wonderful man. How special it is for them to have a tangible link to a time that now seems like the distant past. How beautiful it is, that through them, he has a window into the future.
Today we thank you for your service…our Veteran, our Hero, our Pop-Pop.
Happy Veterans Day to the hero(s) in your life.