Today is Veteran’s Day in the good ole’ US of A.
Americans take the weekend to reminisce about loved ones, friends and strangers who served or are still serving in the military.
I use to regret that I never did serve in the military, but I’ve gotten over that.
I recently read a post that asked if certain sounds or smells take us back to another time or bring back memories of a particular event.
There are two for me that I can almost smell and imagine as though I am experiencing them right now in the moment, and one of them involves my favorite veteran, my grandpa on my mom’s side.
I’ve written about Wife’s grandpa Bud before, and how I never did really get to know him as well as I might have been able to with a little prodding, but even Bud has to take a backseat in my little car to my own grandpa.
They were both incredible men and served in the military when the choice was made for you. They, like thousands of men before and after them, were drafted and just served their country because that’s what was expected of them.
My grandpa was the only grandpa I had growing up. My dad’s dad died when I was one or two, so I don’t have any memory of time spent with him.
My grandpa was a firefighter in St. Louis and I spent many nights at their house as a kid and remember fondly being awakened, in what seemed like the middle of the night to me, by the smell of eggs and bacon frying in the kitchen.
Before people became wienies about everything they put into their mouths, men ate bacon and eggs for breakfast before they left to go run into burning buildings for a living. Cholesterol wasn’t a concern to men who might fall through a worn out, fire weakened roof at any given moment.
We enjoyed many bacon and egg breakfasts together alone in that tiny kitchen while the sun was still contemplating when to get up itself.
Grandpa died when I was nine. He was only 55.
I remember mom and dad both picked me up from school the day I found this out. It was unusual that I was picked up from school at all instead of walking to the babysitters, so when I saw that my mom and dad were both in the car, I just knew that something unusual was going on.
That he died wasn’t a surprise. He’d been sick for some time. An adult lifetime spent in burning buildings and puffing cigars had done a number on his lungs.
Cancer doesn’t care if you’re a former Navy veteran or a fireman or a father to eight kids or a grandfather to a kid who adores you.
I hate myself for this, but I didn’t like my grandpa towards the end of his life.
When he needed my love and caring the most, I avoided him and found it disgusting to be in the same room with him. He was sick. He was spitting pieces of his lung into a brown grocery bag all the time. He wasn’t handing out the presents on Christmas Eve as he always had or manning the grill at the family barbecues, and most importantly, he wasn’t getting up to make bacon and eggs and talk about soccer with me while it was still dark in the morning before leaving for work.
He was too weak to do any of that, and I understand it all now.
It was still a shock to me that day in fourth grade to go straight from school to grandpa’s house and see the hospital bed empty. Grandpa’s many, many hats were hanging on the wall, but he was nowhere to be found. He’d died and been taken away already.
I don’t remember the funeral, only bits and pieces of the wake, really. I do remember that I’d painted a Superman figurine with one of those kits popular with kids back then and asked that it be buried with him.
Kids are dumb and I thought Superman would keep my grandpa safe on his next journey to wherever. It was the least I could do for being so cold towards him during his illness.
Not long after his death he was inducted, posthumously, into the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame. St. Louis has a long, storied soccer history, so this is quite an honor. It was no surprise to anybody who saw him play though. He played well into his forties for one of the famed Kutis teams as a hard nosed defender.
I do remember that ceremony. The Archbishop said the mass and I got to keep the green and white jacket that all the inductees receive. It was an honor and one of the great pleasures of my young life to be there for that.
I was and am still so proud of him. I wish I could have just one more fried eggs and bacon breakfast with him to let him know that, but it’s not meant to be.
Instead, from time to time, I take four tall boys, two Busch and two of whatever I’m feeling like that day, to Section M, Site 521 of the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery and we share beers that we never got to share together, but that I know we would’ve had he lived longer.
I sit and sometimes say nothing. Sometimes I talk. Sometimes I have a nice cathartic cry.
It’s all good between my favorite veteran and I nowadays.
I imagine that cold beers would be our thing now were he alive and well. Just like eggs and bacon used to be. At some point a doctor would probably have told him to lay off the fried bacon and eggs, so we’d have switched to the much healthier beer as our go to bonding staple.
Even so, the smell of fried eggs and bacon will always be what brings me back to his little kitchen in the dark just before he had to go to work.