Over the last 15 years or so I have had the honor of being surrounded by veterans. I used to say that I didn't really understand or appreciate America until I married one, but looking back, the seeds of patriotism and devotion to this country were planted in me many years before. This Veteran's Day weekend, while I honor those who have served and remember those who have fallen, I wanted to share my feelings about two veterans specifically. So tomorrow, my husband, but today...Fred.
(text from layout) It has always been hard to "define" Fred. Although he and Grandma never married, they lived together for almost 40 years as husband and wife. Although he wasn't really my grandfather, I wasn't very close to my biological grandfather, so Fred seemed pretty "real" to me. Everyone else in our family, it seemed, saw Fred as the resident grouch. According to them - he never wanted to be in our photos. When the whole family came to visit he spent most of his time in his workshop. Didn't have too many kind words to say. Didn't really seem to care about us. Drove my grandmother crazy. Wasn't even close to his own children. But that isn't the Fred I remember.
Somewhere in one of my mother's scrapbooks there is a picture of Fred and I at the house some Christmas when I was small. It is a rarity to be sure. Fred is holding me in his arms, and we are both smiling. Touching and smiling were not things Fred did often. When we look at that photo my mother tells me that I was Fred's favorite because I was the oldest grandchild and a girl. But I don't think that was the reason. I think it was because when I would come to visit in the summers, I would sit with him at the table after dinner and listen to his war stories. I think it was because I would go on car rides with him to visit his brother and sister-in-law. I think it was because he was able to convince me that mustard tastes good. I can remember so clearly the faded military tattoos on his arms, the smell of his tobacco, how he talked to the cat, the way he made me laugh when he wasn't trying to be funny. That is the Fred I remember.
The last time I saw Fred was a few months before he died. I had been in Denver visiting and Fred was helping me load my luggage in to the car. We had gone through this routine dozens of times over the years, but this time - although I didn't know it would be the last time - something told me to hug him. It was awkward. It was short, and afterwards I thought it was probably silly and that he didn't like it. But now I think that hug encompassed an entire lifetime of what we were never able to say to each other. That I loved him - and in his own way - he loved me too.
After Fred died I specifically asked Grandma for his picture (left), his ID and his dog tags. They had been hanging in his workshop for as long as I could remember so I knew they had to mean a great deal to him - but strangely enough no one else had wanted them. These little things define for me the man he was, the memories he shared, the life he led. And I think he would be proud that I have found my own brave soldier to grow old with, to sit around the table with and listen to stories, while eating lots and lots of mustard.