Jericho, Vermont, 1972-
In the root cellar, Grandpop handed me his mess kit. Inside the khaki metal bowl and lid was a tiny fork, spoon and knife attached to a attached to a chain. I thought was pretty nifty. I wondered if I could borrow it as a lunch box when I went to first grade in the fall.
He gently slid his heavy gasmask over my head, lifted my chin up with his thumb, looked at me and chuckled. The weight of the rubber made my neck compress and my shoulders rise. Inside the mask, it smelled like musty rainboots.His chuckle waded into a wet, hacking cough. This is how 1918 must have smelled. I didn’t want to be in 1918 anymore so I slipped it off my head. It ripped the little hairs on my neck.
“They got me, Andi. God dammit… That was it but I’m still here, huh kiddo? Here I am with my little sidekick. God damm them." He reached for the mason jar of string beans for Grandma and handed them to me.
I had no idea who he was going on about-- I had no notions about the war-- but I held the jar of string beans and he reached for more: peaches, beans, potatoes. He recited his memories to me-- a four year old girl.
His deep voice which was scarred by damaged by mustard gassed lungs resonated into my tiny core like a bomb shell. I leaned against the wooden ladder to contain the treble. It felt like he was telling me a secret. If I had known how to write I would have taken notes but his words etched into my mind. I remember them today.
"The trenches. The trenches. Those God damn trenches. The rain. The mud. The buddies. The wetness. The trenches. The bunkers. The gunshots. The bayonets. The rain. The buddies. The corpses. God dammit. The war. My buddies.”
We went back to the kitchen and handed my Grandmother her beans. She was annoyed we took so long.
I’m moved to imagine this old man sharing his pain with young me. Maybe he feared that future generations might forget their sacrifices, suffering and bravery that shaped the world we live in today. I’m glad that I knew enough to listen.