Today is a day of rememberance in both pride and respect for the men and women who serve, fight for, and protect our country. Known as Veteran's Day, Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, you can Google any of these terms to learn the origin and history of this patriotic observance each November 11th. What you cannot necessarily find in a Google search however is the story behind the salute, the life outside that uniform, and the lives touched by that brave soul.
My grandfather is one such story. Born in 1921, his was a difficult life, one he seldom spoke of. I know he spent much of his younger years in his mother's brothel. I know he left school in the 8th grade to hop trains with his father chasing after little work. I know he literally worked himself to the bone carrying red-hot rivets in buckets draped over his shoulders like an ox. I know at the end of the day he was pleased as pie and oh so grateful for a can of sardines. A slice of bread to lay them on was a delicious treat. I know the contorted feet of his elder years from too small shoes for far too long.
Yes, my grandfather's story seems like a page from the Grapes of Wrath. It could have been. His formative years were lived during the Great Depression in Kansas, where he was born and raised. But life did improve with hard work and tenacity. He met my grandmother and they had their first son. Still, Grandpa believed in "doing the right thing", and this meant service to his country.
Grandpa joined the United States Navy and served 2 1/2 years as a Naval Ordnanceman, Second Class during World War II.
Fortunately he did not see battle, much to Grandma's relief. (These are just a few of the tinkets he sent her during his time away.) Grandpa eventually returned to her and they had their second son, my father.
What I also know about Grandpa is that he valued the self respect of a hard day's work. He appreciated "yes sirs" and "no thank you, ma'ams" and standing as a lady entered the room. He had little tolerance for "shenanigans" or "hoodlums", but deep respect for a man who shook his hand while he looked him straight in the eye. He believed in honesty, respect, and the value of a man's word. More than anything, Grandpa valued the simple things in life: a sunny day, his fishing line in the water, and the company of family and friends.
When my mother and father could and would not care for me, it was never a question to be asked where I would go. My grandparents became my parents. Grandma taught me to sew and bake and how to help violets thrive. Grandpa instilled in me the character he felt he'd failed in his youngest son, and I took it willingly. It was easy to please this man who had hotcakes and syrup waiting every morning, pushed me in the swing, let me run the lawnmower, and rocked me night after sleepless night. I loved my grandmother, but Grandpa was the one who stole my heart while making me mind my "Ps and Qs". He had the quiet strength that calmed my troubled world and that security still lives inside me today.
That is the same way I view our veterans; with a quiet strength that calms our troubled world. On this day I value every single person who leaves their family and friends to protect my freedom... our freedom. I value even more the strength of character they build upon and bring back home to instill in their children... our children. My grandfather's life was built on a foundation of struggle, enforced by a belief, and walled in by love. He was the grandest of father's, and I couldn't have asked for anything better.
Peace to you and yours,