Over the last few years, I began to notice that my grandfathers’ body had gotten old and frail and trying to ignore it had become futile. I found myself mourning the man he used to be. This remarkable man who had been such a powerful influence on my life, had a mind that was still sharp, but he was imprisoned in a worn-out, disintegrating shell.
We no longer walked down to the lake to throw stones, and spent most of our time sitting on the front porch, still drinking Dr. Pepper from the bottle and just talking, like before, but it was different now. I believe he knew that he was running out of time when he said, “I’m not long for this world.”
He got up, took his cane and walked into the house. When he came back, he was holding the box that housed Ole Tin-tin. As he handed it to me he said, “I want you to have this now.”
I took it and realized that it was what used to be a harmonica.
“Was this yours?” I asked. He shook his head and said, “no. It belonged to my best friend.”
As he began to tell me the story about Ole Tin-tin, I didn’t know that it would be the last story he would ever tell.
“Do you remember the picture of the young man on the shelf? That young man was me,” he said. “It was taken when I was your age. I was in my uniform and I was so proud. There was a war going on, you know…the Vietnam War, and I had been called to serve.”
I had heard of that war but I never knew that my grandfather had been in the service, and I surely never knew that he had been in that war. He never talked about it. Nobody did.
“Are those medals yours?” I asked. He said “yes.” When I asked him what they were for, I could see the pain in his eyes as he thoughtfully paused and said, “for causing ripples.”
“Vietnam,” he said, “was a war no one wanted, and we didn’t know then, but it was a war we wouldn’t win. Still, there were those of us who were duty-bound to serve our country…the country we loved, and when you love something, you should be willing to lay down your life to protect it. That’s what so many young men did, and so many of those young men lost their lives doing just that.”
I put my hand on his and said, “Grandpa, you know how much I love your stories, but if it is too painful to talk about, I understand. And I want you to know how precious your stories have been to me. I cherish them and I cherish you. Your stories will be with me forever and some day, I hope I’ll be telling them to my own grandson…or granddaughter, and maybe I’ll have a few of my own to tell.”
I wasn’t really sure what serving in the war had to do with an old harmonica, but his spirit seemed to lighten when he said two words.
“George Revelle.” He shook his head and said, “George and I met when we were in the fourth grade. We were caught smoking behind the school, and both got our little fannies warmed when we got home. After that, we were inseparable. We were like two grounded ships when we weren’t together and when we were together, we were like two peas in a pod.” He smiled and said, “he was at my house more than he was at his own, and we sure could get up to some mischief. That’s why I’ve always thought my mother had to have been a saint.”
“We told each other our secrets, shared our heartbreak when a girl didn’t give us a second glance, knew each others’ hopes and dreams, and planned to become millionaires by the time we were in our twenties.”
Then he looked down and said, “you know, time steals things. It steals childhoods. It steals hopes and dreams, but it’s not really about what time steals. It’s about what it leaves behind. Memories. That’s what it leaves behind.”
He was quiet for a few minutes, and then laughed as he said, “George was something else. His sixth grade teacher was what we called, back then, an old maid, and she was a mean-spirited woman. He used to turn in his homework, with his name at the top…just like we all had to do, but he put Geo. Revelle. One day, he said she held up his paper in front of the whole class and chastised him. “You will sign your full name on your work. This is pure laziness, and there is no room for laziness in my classroom’!”
“And,” he went on. “He loved to sing. Now, mind you, he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket with a lid on it, but that didn’t keep him from belting out whatever song he last heard on the radio. He sure did make me laugh. I could be in the worst mood, but George would somehow, some way, do something to make me laugh and forget whatever was on my mind.”
“My orders came, and the day I told George that I was going to be headed to boot-camp, I couldn’t believe it when he said his orders had come as well and we were headed to the same base.”
To be continued______________