Yesterday, whist visiting my grandparents, I had an actual conversation with my pappy. This might not seem impressive, but the fact is that he is 90 years old and almost completely deaf; he has been ‘hard of hearing’, as my nana puts it, for longer than I’ve been alive. But my nana asked about this trip, and when I told her we’d be going to both England and France, my pappy perked up. Memory is a strange thing, and though he often tells the same story two times in a row, he can remember over sixty years ago like it was yesterday. You see, he, like most men of his generation, was in WWII–‘the service’, as he calls it–and was stationed for two years in England and two years in France, on the border of France and Belgium. And he remembers crazy facts–the names of the towns he was stationed in (Liege, which is actually in Beligum), the name of the river that ran thorough the town (the Meuse) and the details of his job right down to how much he sold his military boots for before he came home ($80, which was equivalent to four months army pay!)
The sad thing is–I did not know any of this, and would not have ever known if I hadn’t been sharing the details of this trip. I’ve since done some research, and that research combined with what my pappy told me have helped me to figured out his role in this part of history. Again, sadly, it is often easier to do research than to talk directly to him, as these conversations are awkward three-way dialogues involving my nana screaming directly in his ear. I know that he was an army mechanic, and worked on tanks. He told me he was in charge of ‘Patton’s tank’, and that he had to ‘crank it up fifty times every day’–my nanna explained to him (without even asking me–she just knew) that I don’t know who Patton is (though thanks to google, I do now) and, according to a lot of cross referencing, this seems like he was in some way involved in The Battle of the Bulge, which I also just learned about (don’t tell my high school history teachers…or my current middle school students!)
Several parts of the conversation were quite amusing–for example, he told me to take lots of chewing gum with me. The French are amused by chewing gum, he said. It is novel, he said. Said I–I think it is a bit different now, pappy. I’ve seen the birthplace of Shakespeare, he said. It was a disappointment, he said. Go there, he said, I wanted to, just like you do, but it was a huge disappointment. I laughed.
I am so glad we were able to have this conversation. Who would have thought that the planning of a trip a quarter of the way around the world would result in my becoming closer to my own grandfather? What a wonderful surprise.