The Dastardly Demise of That Demeantor Scorpion

In 1983, I moved from Pennsylvania to Texas. As usual, it was my job to put all of the furniture into its proper place, and unpack what seemed like a thousand boxes.

I was diligently doing my job, while trying to corral four children, all under the age of six.

I opened a box that had “kitchen” on it. Yay, I thought. Now I can have a cup of coffee! As I unwrapped the cups, one by one, I neatly folded the paper and put it back into the box. When I grabbed the last cup, I was carefully unwrapping it, and out of the corner of my little eye, I thought I saw something moving.

OH MY LUCY! There was a scorpion in the box. I had never seen one before (and have never seen one since.)

Luckily, I still had the cup in my hand, so I put it over the scorpion. Next, I gently slid a saucer under the cup and tinkered around with the idea that I would throw the scorpion into the toilet. But…what if it didn’t make all the way down to that little hole that eats poo-poo and other things it shouldn’t, and then the next time I peed, it stung my cooter? Or what if it crawled out and stung my little boy on his hooter? Toilet idea scratched.

My next idea was to just let it out of its china prison and then I would stomp on it. But…what if it scurried away really fast and I couldn’t get it? Then it would be loose in the house and we would all be in mortal danger.

Well…then an idea came to me.

I had been given a really nice microwave oven, but I had never used it. I was scared to death of it. I didn’t understand how it worked and I had heard horror stories about little old ladies putting their dogs in the microwave to dry them. (Didn’t work out very well for the little doggies.)

I couldn’t have my children in harms’ way…so I put the cup and saucer in the microwave and hit…something. I’m not sure what. Probably “cook.”

Sparks were flying everywhere in the microwave. Do scorpions have metal in them?

Anyway, Mr. Scorpion was pretty much toast, and I thought…”oh. So that’s what a microwave oven does.”

Ole Tin-tin – Chapter Ten

“I was paralyzed,” grandpa said. “I just couldn’t believe I was holding ole tin-tin. I almost broke down as I clutched it to my chest. It was hard to breathe, but suddenly, I found myself laughing and wondering why.”

“As we moved out, I had ole tin-tin clutched so tightly in my hand that it almost went numb. Then, I stopped dead in my tracks. I had a sense of foreboding. I don’t know why. The fighting was over, but nothing was guaranteed in the bush. It didn’t care if you had just arrived or if it was your last day. There was always the possibility that a bullet had your name on it. I looked at a guy and said, ‘if I fall, I want you to promise me that you will get ole tin-tin and take it to Georges’ mom’.”

“I never will forget the day the helicopters came to pick us up,” he said. “We were out of our minds with excitement, but there was sadness for the ones we were leaving behind, and for the ones who went before us on a different journey.”

“I always thought,” he said, “that war was like a jet flying overhead, leaving a contrail of memories that in time, would slowly be forgotten or disappear and when they finally did, the flight was over. Simplistic, I know, and somewhat naïve.” Grandpa shook his head and mocked himself. “How could I have been so insouciant?”

“When we landed in the States. I couldn’t wait to see mom and dad. I felt like I had been gone for years, and I felt like I had aged a hundred years. I knew I looked worn and haggard, but the little boy in me was comforted by thinking, mom will take care of me.”

“When we got off the plane, we were stunned. There were no colorful, handmade Welcome Home banners. There were no ticker tape parades or kisses with pretty nurses in the middle of town square. There were only angry protesters, who spit at us and called us baby killers. They taunted us with cruel and violent hostility. They threw rotten vegetables at us. We didn’t understand what was going on at first, but apparently the war had become very unpopular while we were gone, and we were now targets for everyones’ hatred.”

“Did you say anything to them Grandpa?” I asked. “Did you tell them that you were over there fighting for someones’ freedom? The very freedom that we all enjoy and probably take for granted?”

“They didn’t care,” grandpa said, “and I was just happy to get home.” Grandpa smiled when he said, “it took me a few weeks to be able to sleep through the night without jolting upright when I heard a strange noise. And a car backfiring?” He laughed and said, “that would get me prone faster than tripping over a rock.”

I said, “it sounds like you had PTSD, Grandpa.” He said, “you’re probably right, but back then it was called ‘shell-shocked’. Most doctors would more or less say, ‘take two aspirin and call me in the morning’. I fared better than a lot of the boys who came home. Some of us kept in touch for a while, but over time, they just seemed to disappear.”

“What did you do with ole tin-tin?” I asked.

“I took it to his mom. His dad had died shortly after George was killed. His mom said she knew that he died from a broken heart. She took ole tin-tin and smiled as she thanked me. She gave me a hug and said she wondered why it hadn’t been with his other things when he came home. I didn’t tell her how I came to have it and she didn’t ask. Maybe she didn’t want to know, or maybe she didn’t care. All that mattered was that it was with her now. She asked if I would go to his grave with her. I hadn’t been yet and I wasn’t sure I could handle it, but I went.”

“George was resting beside his father in what was called The Garden of Remembrance, and I noticed that a marker had already been made for her. I tried to comfort her as she cried. I told her how much everyone liked George. After a few minutes, I wanted to lighten the moment when I talked about George playing that old harmonica and singing. ‘He had us in stitches’, I said. “He couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.” We both laughed. I think it was the first time I had laughed in quite a while.”

As she stood over his grave, she said, “you know. One of the greatest gifts anyone can receive, is to be remembered fondly with laughter and perhaps a few tears. If you cry for someone, someday when you’re gone, maybe someone will cry for you.”

“There was so much sadness in her voice as she asked, ‘who will cry for him after I’m gone’?”

“I put my arm around her and said, I will. I will cry for him as long as I live, and that’s a promise.” He looked at me and said, “I never faltered. I have kept my word all these years.”

“It’s funny,” he said. “When you go to the cemetery, you can’t see ripples but you know they’re there. You can feel them. They don’t make a noise but if you listen closely, you might hear the contented sighs of peace, or maybe the silent screams of a life cut too short. It doesn’t matter where those ripples were made, here or on the other side of the world, they carried consequences.”

“When Georges’ mom died, she left ole tin-tin to me and I will be leaving it to you. There are no incumbrances as far as its disposition. That is your choice. I just wanted you to know the story behind this old rusty piece of tin, which brought so much laughter into my life, and so much grief as well. I am at ease with things now and I can only hope that I haven’t caused too many destructive ripples.”

Grandpa turned and looked at me. He said, “There will come a time when we all must take stock of our lives.”

My grandfather died the next year, but he left me with such wonderful and sometimes, heartbreaking memories. That terrible war he endured…the remarkable friendship and death of a singing, harmonica playing best friend, and wishes that I carefully measure the ripples that I cause.

I keep Ole Tin-tin on my desk, and once a year I visit Georges’ grave. I do it for his mother, I do it for my grandfather and I do it for myself. Some day, I will tell the story behind that old rusty piece of tin, and I will ask the same question that my grandpa asked me that still echoes in my mind.

“Were the ripples I caused worth the price?”

El Fin

Ole’ Tin-tin – Chapter Nine

“I don’t know why it never occurred to me that I would be killed,” Grandpa said. “I think, sometimes you just know…you just have a sense…but if you do survive, you never really recover from what war does to you…and you never forget.”

“Time does heal those wounds a bit, but there will always be this emptiness…this hollowness…this void…this inner anguish that nothing will ever be able to assuage.”

“And as I said. The rage was almost all consuming. I had never been a particularly volatile or vengeful man, and I had never wanted to cause ripples, but I became almost blinded by my hatred for these people we were fighting against…and for.”

Grandpas’ voice became almost mournful as he continued.

“I can’t tell you everything that happened over there. It’s clear…now…that I had lost my mind, I think. I couldn’t find peace. There were no comfort zones anywhere. There was only death and destruction…and ripples. Ripples that I caused but they were anonymous. Firing a weapon at moving targets always leaves room for doubt.”

“But I remember this one soldier. We were just walking along a path and he was hiding in the bush. He stood up and smiled at me. He was just a young boy…probably around my age, but I didn’t care. I looked him right in the eye and remember thinking that he was no more than an animal…and then I killed him. I unloaded my weapon into his body and I kept firing, even after I had run out of ammunition. It was almost like I had stepped out of my own body. There was no noise…no shudder…just one minute this boy was alive, and the next, I was filling him full of holes. One of the other guys…I can’t even remember who…came over and said, ‘he’s dead and he’s not going to get any more dead’.”

Grandpa sighed and said, “he still haunts me to this day. I had a choice. I could have let this young man live, but I chose to end his life. I think about him and wonder…who was the real animal?”

“He was someone’s son. Maybe he was someone’s brother, or husband…or father. I caused a ripple that day. A ripple that wasn’t anonymous. A ripple that would forever be felt. A ripple with never ending waves. And that day was the day that somehow, my thirst for revenge was quenched. I don’t ever expect absolution for what I did over there, but I hope if there is a higher power, my actions will at least be understood.”

He continued. “Anyway, I was getting short. Just another month and I would be on my way back to the states…back to the before time and the before life I had left a year ago. I knew that I would be expected to act the same, but I wasn’t the same. I would never be the same.”

“We had one more mission before my papers came through. I didn’t want to go. I was sick of war. I was sick of fighting. I was sick of killing. I was sick of seeing death…but fate is fickle. The last conflict was another brutal, bloody battle. We managed to push back the enemy and hadn’t lost a single man in our platoon.”

“Defiling a corpse was no longer stomach churning, so we did the usual check to see if any of their men were still alive and could become prisoners. We searched for explosives and ammunition in their clothes, but didn’t find much. Sometimes, we’d find letters or pictures soaked with blood and we just tossed them away like trash. Occasionally, we’d find what looked like a Bible, but we couldn’t understand the language of course. If I found one, I would just place it on the soldiers’ chest. I still had a reverence for the Bible, no matter what language it was printed in.”

Grandpa put his hands together, almost like he was going to say a prayer, and said, “I found one soldier laying on his back with his eyes open. He was clearly dead but there was no expression of agony or surprise or sorrow on his face. I checked his pockets.”

I thought Grandpa was going to break down when he said, “the only thing he had in his pocket was…a rusted old harmonica.”

To be continued__________________

Ole’ Tin-tin – Chapter Eight

Grandpas’ voice trembled as he continued.

“I dropped to my knees,” he said. “I think I must have been screaming because one of the guys had his hand over my mouth.”

Again, Grandpa shook his head and took a deep breath. “We found George, hanging from a tree. They had peeled his skin off from his neck to his waist. I guess I was in shock, because I remember wondering why he was covered with flies. Someone started calling for a medic, and said ‘get him down’.”

“This may sound strange, but when we got him down, I remember almost desperately looking through his things for that damn harmonica. When I couldn’t find it, I was overcome with a sense of rage, regret, loss and an unquenchable thirst for vengeance. They not only took his skin and his life…they took ole tin-tin.”

Grandpas’ fists were clenched and his voice was deliberate when he said, “I wanted revenge. I wanted to go on a rage-filled killing spree. I wanted to cause goddamn annihilation. I wanted to make destructive ripples that would exterminate an entire country.”

His voice softened somewhat as he said “we were ordered to keep moving, and I left George laying there, mangled and mutilated. I glanced back as they were loading him onto a gurney, and I knew it would be the last time I ever saw him.”

“I felt empty,” he said. “Hell, we all did. I have never known anyone who was so universally liked by everyone. He was a rare find. A once in a lifetime find. A find that I would never again encounter. He left a hole in my heart and bruised my soul to the point that I thought I would never recover.”

“As I walked away with a look of retributive justice in my eyes and a burning hatred in my heart, out of nowhere, one of the guys walked up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘you know, they say when seeking revenge…dig two graves’. He barely got the last word out when I said, tell them to start digging, because they’ll be the first one in the fucking ground.”

“We made camp that night and besides the distant crickets and the repetitive sounds of cigarette lighters, it was silent. There were no unbearable shrieks from ole tin-tin, and no laughter they had always elicited. There were no anecdotal stories about George. I think we were all too heartbroken.”

“Even our staid Sergeant Weston stopped by to offer his condolences and try to slow dance around what he had callously said about George having ‘been fragged’. I admit that I held that against him, warranted or not, but that wasn’t pressing. I was still bloodthirsty and my bitterness was so virulent, it was almost tactile. It was a dangerous place to be mentally.”

Grandpa turned his head and said, “In my crazed, almost psychotic state, I remember suddenly thinking…well, at least his mother will get a flag. That’s a fair trade, don’t you think? A flag for a son?”

“I hated the war. I hated everything it stood for, and to tell the truth, I wasn’t even sure what we were fighting for…and dying for. I just knew that it was taking a mighty toll, and all those deaths seemed to just be taken in stride. It was almost like the government of our country was saying, “oh well. What’s a few thousand lives in the grand scheme of things?”

I was surprised to hear my grandfather speak about the war and the country that way, because I knew that he was a patriot and loved our country. Maybe that’s why I never knew that he had served, or fought. Maybe that’s why no one ever talked about that war. I think, over the years, he had healed. At least I hoped he had.

“The fighting didn’t stop with Georges’ death, of course,” he said. “We still had a job to do. Blood would still be spilled. Soldiers would still be maimed and slaughtered. Death would still be fired from guns. It would still fall from the sky, and I would still carry the mantle of wrath for the friend I had lost…at least until I felt that I had avenged his murder.”

“The next few months, we saw the bloodiest fighting we had seen since we first set foot in country. You know, your mind does funny things when you find yourself teetering on the brink of life and death. While I was dodging bullets and shooting at everything I could see, I kept thinking about all the flags that would be sent to the mothers and fathers and wives of these men, but I never once thought about the one that would be sent to mine.”

To be continued_________________

Ole’ Tin-tin – Chapter Seven

I looked at Grandpa and I could see an agonal look…the kind of look when someone has suffered unimaginable trauma. He couldn’t speak for a few minutes. He just kept shaking his head. Finally, he sighed heavily and began.

“We were desperate to find out if one of the bodies might be George. I asked one of the docs if maybe he had treated an unusually tall man. That medic looked at me and again, I saw that thousand yard stare as he said, ‘I don’t measure those soldiers. I just do the best I can to try to keep them alive and most of the time…I can’t.”

“Staff Sargent Weston had just give us our orders, but I didn’t hear a word he said. I was worried sick about George. I never let the thought of him being killed enter my mind. I told myself that the had just gotten lost. We had been told not to call out if we were lost, and George was a good soldier. He would never have put us in danger.” Grandpa chuckled as he said, “other than subjecting us to that god-forsaken cacophony of howls from ole’ tin-tin.”

“I risked Sargent Westons’ wrath when I asked if we were going to look for George, and I think if looks could kill, I would have dropped dead. He said, ‘your mission is to do as you are told, not go out and try to find a soldier who doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground and can’t find his way back to his own platoon. He’s probably been fragged anyway’.”

“Sargent Weston could be harsh, and at that particular moment, I wanted to punch him in the face, but I sort of understood. That’s what war does to you. How many times can you see death and not become numb? To him, George was just another soldier. We were all…just another soldier.”

“We gathered up our gear and started humping through the bush. We didn’t know where we were headed or what we were going to encounter. We could have been walking straight into an ambush without warning, but we kept walking. We tried to make jokes about the mosquitoes the size of small cars, the crickets the size of bigger cars, all the while trying not to think of things that were inconceivable.”

“One of the guys yelled, ‘hey. What’s worse than listening to George playing ole’ tin-tin’? Another one yelled back, ‘nothing!’. We all laughed. Anything that could make us laugh was welcome. I think that’s why we were all so fond of George. Even when we were so tired we could hardly move, he could make us laugh.” Grandpa smiled and said, “George made ripples.”

“After we’d been walking a good two or three miles, our point man stopped dead in his tracks, and immediately took a defensive position. He gave us the hand sign that unfriendlies might be ahead. As we carefully walked toward him, ready to fire at anything that moved, we all stood in stunned silence.”

To be continued___________

Ole’ Tin-tin – Chapter Six

I had never seen my grandfather look so melancholy. I couldn’t imagine what he had seen and heard and done, as could no one, unless they had been there.

“Weeks went by,” he said, “and those weeks turned into months. We saw guys in our platoon get wounded or killed and it changed us all. I came to understand the way we were treated when we first arrived. These wide-eyed grunts were no different than we, and most of us didn’t want to give them a warm welcome. We had learned. We got to know and like a guy and the next thing we knew, we were covered with his blood and guts.”

“We all welcomed R&R. It was a chance to get a hot meal, sit around a campfire, not worry about getting killed, and just shoot the breeze. It was a chance for us to get a good nights’ sleep for the first time in what most of us couldn’t even remember how long.” Grandpa’s voice trailed off as he quietly said, “funny…none of us talked about our last mission. One night, I remember seeing this soldier walking back into camp. His face had that blank, unfocused look that I had heard so much about. It was called ‘the thousand yard stare’. That was the first time I saw it, but it wouldn’t be the last.”

I guess Grandpa needed to momentarily get out of that dark place. He laughed and said, “while we were enjoying, or trying to enjoy those few peaceful minutes of the only civility we would know for a while, George would start playing ole tin-tin. I guess we figured it was a little less hellacious than the unspeakable horrors of the past days…and weeks…and months, and it gave us the chance to laugh and forget for a while.”

“While we were sitting around, one question we all asked each other was, ‘how many days’?” He looked at me and said, “that was important. From day one, we were counting the days that we would be in country. When someone was getting short, they were running on a sort of high. We’d give them some crap of course, but we were always glad for them…and would be doing our own countdown.”

“After our three days of R&R, we were headed for the worst conflict we had yet seen. We were locked and loaded and waited until almost midnight to start moving.”

He gestured with his hands as he said, “they had these giant crickets and we’d listen to them while were were walking. It was so dark, we couldn’t see our own hand in front of our faces, but that didn’t stop us. We just muddled on. Then…the crickets stopped chirping and we got worried. We got really worried.”

“All of a sudden, bullets started flying, grenades were being thrown at us… and by us. There were bloodcurdling screams of desperation…or maybe they were the agonizing final screams of acceptance. I don’t know. It was just so chaotic and at times, I wasn’t sure if I was shooting at one of them or one of us.”

“The next thing I remember was seeing a blinding flash of light and then…nothing.”

“Did you get shot?” I asked. Grandpa looked at me and said, “no, I got what they call a sub concussive blow. It just knocked my lights out for a few minutes and left me not hearing so well for a while. We lost almost half of our platoon that night, but amidst the shock and turmoil, the next morning, we were able to collect the dead and wounded. The wounded got medivaced out, and the dead were put on a litter and carried away.”

“Death,” he said, “is indiscriminate. There’s no rhyme or reason. It doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care if you’re a short timer or just hopped off the chopper. It doesn’t care if you’re a good person or a bad person. When it comes for you, there is no apology. It’s just your time.”

Grandpa once again took a deep breath. He looked down and said, “when we got back to camp, we noticed that something wasn’t right.”

“Nobody had seen George.”

To be continued____________________

Ole’ Tin-tin – Chapter Five

“For the first few days,” grandpa said, “we mostly just sat around, talking, wondering, waiting, and listening to George playing his harmonica. I swear, he’d have us rolling on the ground, laughing. We still didn’t have any idea what we were in for.”

“Then we were given orders to do a ‘seek and destroy’ mission.”

“We headed out, tromping through brush so thick, we had to cut it with machetes, and there were the times we had to walk knee-deep in water, hacking our way as we went. We’d get scraped, scratched, cut and soaked, and we’d be fussing, cussing and asking each other what the hell we’d gotten ourselves into.”

Grandpa stopped and I could see the tears in his eyes as he continued. I asked him what happened. He looked away and said, “there are things that are truly difficult to speak about. I’ll just say that what we left was a piece of countryside blistered and scarred with gaping wounds that still wept bloody tears and smelled of death and decay…but we did our job. We caused ripples.”

He said, “you know, war is sort of glorified in movies and books. There’s always the triumphant end when the heroes defeat the villains. There’s always a back story where the handsome soldier meets the pretty nurse and they get married and live happily ever after. But when you’ve seen war and the bloodshed and the desolation, there’s nothing romantic about it.”

“You may have heard stories about ‘Dear John’ letters. They were true. These men would get letters from their fiancés or wives, telling them that they were tired of waiting and had met someone else. Those men would be beyond devastated. Two men in our platoon got those letters. Tyler Hawkins was one of them and he put on a brave face and acted like it didn’t bother him. The other man, Pete Crawley was completely defeated. Nothing we said could assuage his grief.”

Grandpa took a deep breath, sighed and then said, “when we were under fire one night, Pete clenched the letter in his hand and just stood up. He was immediately shot in the head. I guess he thought he no longer had a reason to live.”

“He was one of those guys who were brave talkers…you know the type. He was always saying, ‘boys…we’re going to kick some’. He’d start howling like a wild dog or something and pretend to start shooting.”

“We all liked him and he was particularly fond of George. He loved to tease him, as we all did. He would chuckle and say, ‘we don’t have to shoot any of them guys…George will kill them with ole’ tin-tin. I mean, they’ll hear that ear-splitting squawking and they’ll walk right up to us and yell ‘just go ahead and fucking kill us…please’!”

It was interesting to hear my grandfather curse. That was something I had never heard from him but I had also never heard his story.

Grandpa leaned back in his chair and said, “one night when the moon was full, we watched them walk a guy what would be almost the entire length of a football field.”

At first I wasn’t sure what he meant. I admit, I was thinking he was seeing a soldier being captured, but I soon realized what he was saying. He witnessed that atrocity and it had stayed with him all these years.

Once again, he took a deep breath and said, “there are things I saw and did over there that I can’t talk about.”

“Those ripples. Those horrible ripples.”

To be continued_____

Ole’ Tin-tin -Chapter Four

“We started our training,” grandpa said.  “Most of us had never even seen the kind of weapons we were given, much less fired one.  We were given gear that we didn’t really know what to do with, and there wasn’t much help from the other guys, because they were just as green as we were.  There were the usual physicals and jumping jacks, getting used to very little sleep, eating horrible food and getting yelled at like we were less than vermin, but we muddled through.  Before we knew it, the six weeks were over and we were loaded onto a C-123, headed to Vietnam.”

“When we landed, we jumped out of that plane and like so many others, were ready to do our part.  We were going to save the world by wiping out the bad guys.  We were going to make ripples.  God, we were so naïve.”

“One of the first things we saw were the other platoons, coming back from a search and destroy mission.”  Grandpa looked down for what seemed to be several minutes before he continued.  His voice almost broke when he said “back then, I couldn’t speak to the horrors of war.  I could only speak to the emptiness in the eyes of those who fought and by some miracle, survived physically, but would remain forever changed.”

“They didn’t speak to us.  Hell, they didn’t even look at us.  They just walked by like they were in a daze.  We didn’t really know what to make of them.”

“We were told to go find our platoon leader, Staff Sargent Weston.  While wandering around like a pack of lost puppies, we heard the other guys saying things like, ‘they’re idiots, don’t know where to go when they’re walking around, don’t know what to take with them, don’t know how to wear their gear or carry their weapons properly, can’t respond to basic commands, waste their ammo, and flake out.  Hell, they even cry and start calling for their mamas, because they’re homesick.  They’re liabilities, boys, so watch your sixes.  They kind of saw us as a dangerous handicap, and figured we’d get snuffed out the first time we were sent ‘in country’.”

“George and I weren’t too bothered by what they said.  Neither of us had a clue what lay ahead…and when I think back, it was probably a blessing.”

“We finally found Weston.  He had been in country for a while and I remember that he had this blank look on his face.  When we walked up, he looked at George and said, ‘goddamn boy.  You look like a tree.  These boys are going to have to dig a trench for you to walk in.  Otherwise, you’re going to be a moving target.  Now, everybody get your shit together.  We’re heading out tomorrow at first light’.”

“When morning came, we were ready and our emotions ranged from being excited to anxious to worried to being scared shitless.  Sargent Weston was a man of few words and gave us the most basic instructions about what to do and what not to do.  ‘Never salute an officer, keep your powder dry, and if you get lost,’ he said, ‘whatever you do, don’t call out.  Just stay put, keep your head down and we’ll find you…eventually…and tree…keep that goddamned harmonica stowed in your pants’.  Apparently, along with the rest of the camp, Sargent Weston had heard George playing ole tin-tin.”

Grandpa looked down and said, “waiting on our helicopter, we saw soldiers unloading bodies from another one, laying them in a row, and covering them with tarps.  Then we watched as they threw huge buckets of water in the cargo hold to wash away all the blood.  Sargent Weston looked at the pilot and asked, ‘how many’?  The pilot said, ’38’.”

“I think, not yet able to grasp the concept of what war really was, I imagined he was asking about soldiers who had been wounded.  I remember when we took off, the wind from the helicopter blades blew off all those tarps, and we were looking at dead soldiers.  Things started to become a little more real for me after seeing that.  I was looking at ripples.”

I asked Grandpa if he would like to take a break.  I laughed when he said, “yep.  Let’s go get us another Dr. Pepper.  Nowadays, there’s not much an ice cold Dr. Pepper can’t cure, don’t you think?”

He took a sip and started talking in an almost monotone voice, like he was reading from a script.  I think maybe it was the only way he could cope with the sadness and regret he felt as he began to open old wounds that had never really healed.

 

To be continued___________________

Ole’ Tin-tin – Chapter Three

I couldn’t wait for him to continue, although I could tell that it was going to be painful.  I could see it in his eyes and I could hear it in his voice.  A sort of agonizing rendition of a life he had lived so many years ago.

But again, his voice seemed to have a lilt when he spoke of George.  He laughed and said, “George and I got on that Greyhound and as soon as we started rolling, he started singing.  I wasn’t sure if the rest of the guys were going to throw us off the bus or join in the fun, but after a few minutes of his caterwauling, they chimed right in.  Later, he had the whole bus rolling in the aisles when he gave one of the worst performances of the National Anthem you ever heard, but at least he remembered all of the words.”

I’ll tell you,” he said.  “George never met a stranger, and I never met anyone who didn’t instantly like him…with the exception of his sixth grade teacher, of course, and there was no excuse for the humiliation he got from that old bitty.”

“After a few hours on the road, George reached into his pocket and pulled out a harmonica.  I remember thinking ‘Oh, Good Lord.’  Anyway, he took to playing what I’m sure he thought was a symphony worthy performance.  To the rest of us, it sounded like a screeching banshee who was experiencing decapitation.”

“He was so proud of that harmonica.  When I asked him where in the world he had gotten it, he said, ‘at Lords’ Drugstore.  Remember…old Sandy Lords’ folks owned it?  Shoot…I even got a good-bye smooch on the cheek from Sandy before I left’.  Then he winked and said, ‘she said she’d wait for me’.  I laughed and said that even if I believed him, and I didn’t, he should have told her that he was going to be gone for a minute.”

“George looked at me and said, ‘you’re just jealous because you didn’t get a smooch and you don’t have this wonderful, marvelous, magical musical instrument in your pocket’.”

“That, I said, is just a piece of tin.  Tin!  The other guys heard me and started chanting ‘tin-tin…tin-tin…tin-tin, and from then on…that’s what it was called.”

I was curious about George and I asked Grandpa what he looked like.  He said, “what do you think he looked like?”  I said, “well, I think he was probably around five eight or nine, had sandy blonde hair, wore glasses; maybe had a few freckles sprinkled over his nose, was of average build and always had a wide grin on his face.”

Grandpa leaned over and looked at me with his intense eyes.  I thought he was going to say something like, “wow.  Pretty good guess,” but he didn’t.  Instead, he said “you might want to hold onto your day job, because I’m not sure you’d make it as a profiler.”

“George,” he said, “was six foot, six and a half inches tall.  He had jet black hair, pale blue eyes and was built like a wrestler, but you are right about one thing.  He always had a grin on his face.”

I’m not sure that I would describe the way my grandpa spoke about George as nostalgic or poignant.  It was more bittersweet, and to me, that was somehow more painful.

“Tell me more,” I begged.

Grandpa took a deep breath and continued.  “Well, we finally got to the base and I remember how we strutted off the bus, like we were all somebodies.  But it didn’t take very long for us to find out that we were nobodies.  We were just the newest green recruits…grunts…wide-eyed and bushy-tailed innocent soldier-wannabes.  FNGs.”

“We didn’t’ know it then…but we,” he said, “we were lambs being readied to be sent to the slaughter.”

I felt numb and couldn’t find any words.

Then grandpa looked at me and said, “do you realize that if you drop the ‘s’ from slaughter, it spells laughter?”

 

To be continued________________

 

Ole’ Tin-tin – Chapter Two

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______________