I’ve been thinking a lot today about my grandmother who passed away at the end of this past August. She was ninety-four years old. She out-lived her husband, my grandfather, by twenty-seven years.
The reason I’ve been thinking about her recently is because her loss is still very recent, and I haven’t quite let that settle into my mind or my heart. And because it’s Veterans Day.
My grandfather was a Marine. He joined the Marines after the bombming of Pearl Harbor. Because I was only thirteen when he died, I didn’t have the chance to ask him about his time in the service.
So many members of my grandmother’s and grandfather’s families were in the service. My grandfather and his brother were both in WWII. My grandmother’s cousins all had husbands in the service, as was my grandmother’s brother. One cousin lost her husband in the war and went on to re-marry the man I knew as her husband.
I would have greatly enjoyed the chance to talk to my grandfather. Because I was still very much a boy when he got sick and died, the world outside was still distant to me. Even if I had talked to him when I was thirteen about his service years, I wouldn’t have understood the conversation.
After my grandfather was gone, and as I grew older, I relied on my grandmother for stories about the war years. We would talk over hands of canasta, games which my grandmother, mostly blind and getting hard of hearing, would trounce–I mean TROUNCE–me. I would ask her about the family history and the large cast of characters that rolled in and out of the stories. When two men who are brothers marry two women who are sisters, the result is a close-knit family with lots of stories.
There aren’t many left now. My grandmother was ninety-four. Her youngest cousin is eighth-four. I saw this cousin at the hospital and subsequently the viewing. It was bittersweet to see her again under such circumstances.
What never occurred to me while my grandmother was still alive was that, despite the fact that my grandfather was off doing the fighting, my grandmother was as much a veteran as my grandfather. Aside from all of the normal daily work that is done to build a life, my grandmother had to do this without her husband by her side. Worse, she, like all the wives and girlfriends and mothers, had to do this with the constant worry that a telegram would appear some bright blue morning declaring in as succinct a manner as possible that the life as she knew it two minutes ago was at an end.
These things have been on my mind this Veterans Day. As much as we celebrate and give thanks to those who go off and serve their country, this day is also about those they leave behind to keep up the house, cook the nightly dinners, help with homework, make the home feel like a home despite the glaring absence.
I’m eternally grateful for the service and sacrifice my grandparents gave for their country. Without them and others like them, we would not be the nation we are today. But more personally, my family would not have become the family it is without them.
So this Veterans Day, if you know a vet, thank them for their service. And if you know a vet’s family, thank them for their sacrifice.