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________________