Editor's note: Last week, the President officially declared September 7th as National Grandparents Day. In honor of grandparents everywhere, and in loving memory of those who have passed, we offer this memoir about a woman and her special friendship with her grandfather.
When I was in high school, my grandpa injured his back. Like many of his generation, he refused to see a doctor for something so "trivial". Afraid that he might need stitches, or worse, I asked to see it. It wasn't serious, but it needed care. So I cleaned and bandaged it. On this day, our relationship changed forever. Despite our age difference, it was the start of a true friendship; one of the most cherished I have to this day.
I came to his house everyday to care for his wound. Afterward, we'd sit together for hours. He'd grow silent as he recalled old memories. Then he'd launch into a sea of incredible stories: one about the time he traveled from farm to farm during the Depression, trading a day’s work for food, a bed, and maybe a few coins; how he joined the Army Air Corps just before WWII; how he walked across a field in England, discovering later that it was mined; how he, a B-24 mechanic, would prepare the bombers for a mission only to see less than half return.
I couldn't get enough of his stories, especially when he would talk about the woman who waited six years for his return.
Some stories were meant to teach me a lesson or give me advice. I had so much to live up to, he would say. He made me promise not to mess up or waste my life. One day, he even made me promise not to marry a "muckety muck".
His injury healed after a few months, but I still found myself there most evenings. What he and I needed, more than any bandage, was friendship. He and my grandma had confided in each other their hopes, dreams, and plans for retirement. They wanted to travel–to see the world–side by side. My grandma passed away when I was six. She was gone before he was ready.
On a recent visit, he confessed that this is the loneliest time in his life. His best friend is gone, his ninety-four year old body often fails him, and he knows his memory is not what it used to be. He's old, he told me. He's alone.
Although my grandfather has seen better days, he will always be a hero; not from earning military awards or medals, but from living an honorable and full life. How many elderly have similarly inspiring stories, but no one to share them with? We may feel we have little in common with our elders, but their hard work and sacrifices paved the road we travel today. What can we do to thank them? If my experience is any indication, we can give them a simple gift they appreciate most: our listening ear.
Photo via flickr user fritzon
Erin Van de Voorde
Currently a project manager in Washington, D.C., Erin grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin where she learned many life lessons. On the weekends, she and her Marine husband can be found hiking, shooting at the range, or indulging in a little whiskey or wine tasting.