Bob Dylan said, “The times… they are a-changing.”
Looking for old photos of the veterans in my family, I thought about how men over a certain age had mostly been in the service… and that today, most men my age have not. What must it have been like to know so many men (and some women) who were sent off to Europe or Asia to fight and face, for so many, certain death? I guess I hope to never find out.
I thought I would talk about my favorite veterans tonight. My uncles, Mike and Bob, were both in the Army, as were both of my grandfathers and my dad.
There he is: dad. I’m the baby.
I have to be careful here because he can correct me, which could cause some potential moments of discomfort for me: something like, “Oh, hey dad, sorry I messed up your life story! I thought I knew you…”
As far as dudes go, my dad isn’t really a “dude.” He’s a little bit reserved, sometimes painfully so (for me), but quick to warm up with a poke to the gut (from me) or a cookie. He’s not macho, thankfully, but quietly tough – much like his dad, my grandfather, who was about as tough as it gets. Thing is, neither of them show that off to the world.
My dad likes Oreos. And Breyer’s. Anything chocolately. And coffee, healthy food, reading, writing, hiking, working outside, “nature”… what else? … Bloody Mary’s and Martinis, art and music. Definitely music. I have extensive knowledge of 60’s and 70’s music, thanks to his cassette and record collections. I have a love of literature and of art, too.
I think he probably doesn’t like… traffic. Cars, in general. Fixing cars, or fixing anything. Waiting in lines. (I laugh as I write this – it was always secretly funny to see a grown man undone by some random broken household item. Well, secret no more. And the litany of swearing that followed.)
My dad was never the kind of make judgments about me – friends or boyfriends, career choice, hair color. As a kid, I used to wonder if he just didn’t care or notice, but I know now, as a dignified and mature adult (!), that he is just that kind and trusting. I see that now when we talk, or when I ask his advice. He is comfortable letting others make their own decisions, as I think he fiercely hopes to continue making his own as he ages. Side note: I tried pretty hard to please he and my mom as a teenager. I think it worked out for the most part.
My dad was in the Army in the late 1960’s. He served as a medic in Germany, for the most part. Dad: thank you!
Another favorite veteran? My mom’s dad. He served in the Korean War in the 1950’s. This is he and I:
Cosmo, or Grandpa Ki as I knew him, was like a ball of live wires. The (metaphoric) shock could be a little bit uncomfortable but kind of refreshing and invigorating, too.
As I’m sure you noticed, he was a pretty handsome guy. He came from a huge Italian family – he had 11 brothers and a sister, all of whom he remained close with until their deaths. The story that I remember is that his father, my great, came to America as part of some part of the mob during Prohibition. I don’t know much more, other than a conglomeration of other stories about my grandpa and his brothers growing up. I looked up Carbetta at Ellis Island a few years ago, but found nothing.
Grandpa died when I was 11, but I think I remember a lot about him. No matter what, he Always acted or sounded excited to see me. When he called our house and I answered, he would shout into the phone, “HI, NIKI!” and for a little kid, that was pretty much amazing. He didn’t venture far from his home, but grew tomatoes and refinished antique wood in his basement – lucky for me, I have a couple of pieces that were his, one of which is a bar with a metal drawer that would have held a huge chunk of ice (pre-electricity, I guess).
When I was sick, my mom would sometimes let me stay with him while she went to work. Those were some great days during my childhood; he would bundle me up on his recliner, feed me Campbell’s chicken noodle, and let me watch TV all day, whatever I wanted. He may have been addicted to TV… just like to his cigarettes and to those few specific strings of profanity that so frequently shot from his mouth (but that we all, of course, adored and found terribly endearing). After each page of his TV Guide would be rendered useless by the passage of time, he would actually rip it out and throw it away. I think I remember him circling the shows he meant to watch, too.
Christmas Eve at grandpa’s was a major event. I always got a new dress, and it was always a party. The electric knife and the ham, and the frigid cold of the car afterward (tights? not that warm, it turns out). My mom adored him. They have OH so much in common! Both are handy and crafty… they even sit at a table the same way.
My other favorite? That’s my dad’s dad, Grandpa Dick.
In WWII, he was a bomber pilot. Kind of a big deal: he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for the amazing number of missions he completed. He was interviewed a few times about his service, the last one being maybe 10 years ago. I’d like to find it and link it for you when I get the chance.
I was lucky enough to know him well. He died last year at age 90. He was tough as nails but in a quietly confident way; he grew up in Pennsylvania when most of the men in his family worked on the railroads, a difficult and dangerous job. I don’t know that he ever did, though. Anyway, he never yelled. I mean never. He smiled and laughed all the time. I kind of think he liked it when I called him old, or asked him what it was like to be so old, or made fun of him for being old. He laughed, and kept calling me “baby.”
My grandpa talked a lot about the war and about his service, which I appreciated and admire about him. It couldn’t have been easy. I wonder if he was glad to be up in the sky and away from what other men could see on the ground. I have a lot of new questions.
His basement? Amazing. A kid’s dream: a TV, a fireplace, a toy train and an adding machine that my cousin and I seriously abused. He loved golf, bowling, biking, hiking… eating out… the beach… and my grandma.
About my grandpa – he was my friend. Truly. There’s some cliche saying about not being able to pick your family but you can pick your friends… blah blah barf. But really, I would pick him for both. We always knew he loved us. And as I got older, no matter how often (or not often) I saw him, we could just pick up on those old conversations. We did, after all, have a long and happy relationship. Thank God for that.
Hey, this blogging thing is pretty cheap therapy. 🙂