In Memoriam

31 May

My grandfather was a hunter. But when he came back from fighting in World War II, he no longer hunted. He found he didn’t enjoy it anymore.

Grandpa talked about some of his experiences in battle. Certain stories were family lore, especially the tale about how his life had been saved by a small metal-covered bible my grandma gave him just before he left for service.  He went in on D-Day +1.  Crawling around a hedgerow, he was surprised by a German solider who got the gun up on him first and shot him in the heart. The bullet went clean through that bible–which sat in his left breast pocket–but was slowed by it, getting stuck in a pack of chewing gum on the other side. As a boy, I marveled at the worn bible, a hole in it the size of my pinky.

Certain stories he didn’t talk about until later in life. After D-day, he was sent to North Africa, but he didn’t tell anyone this until he was in his 70’s, maybe feeling his age and the need to get it out.  He outlined the parts of the campaign that he was involved in, tracing his movement on a map in the yellow light of my grandparent’s dining room while my dad video’d him. But it’s still not clear what happened there to make him so reticent. It obviously affected him deeply.

Several years later, when his mind had been wiped clean by Alzheimer’s, I visited him at his new home, an assisted living apartment.  He no longer recognized his own wife, much less his kids or grandkids. Like a 2-year old, he babbled constantly, seeming nonsense. But as I sat there, looking into his dimmed eyes and holding his cool, smooth, leathery hands, it became clear to me what he was talking about: He was talking about war. Even after everything else had been taken from him, those fragments of memory stayed with him somehow, in his muscles and bones. Incommunicable.

In memory of my grandfather, Memorial Day 2010.

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