Updated: Feb 26, 2021
Jericho, Vermont, 1970-
In the root cellar, Grandpop handed me his mess kit. Inside the khaki bowl, under tin lid was a rusty fork, spoon and knife-- all attached to a attached to links in a dulled metal chain. Pretty nifty. I thought it would make a better lunchbox than my for first grade.
Grandpop slid a heavy gasmask over my head. I imagined myself looking like a tiny martian. I marched around the pantry saluting him. He chuckled. The weight of the rubber was compressnig my neck compress and made my shoulders rise up to my ear. I could smell damp leaves and musty rainboots. This is how 1918 must have smelled. His chuckles became a wet, hacking cough. I pulled the gasmask off my head and it ripped tiny hairs off my neck. Grandpop pulled out his hanky with one hand and rubbed my neck with his other.
“They got me, Andi. 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 remember the swear words feeling very appropriate.
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 a four-year-old girl.
His deep voice which was scarred by damaged by mustard gassed lungs resonated into my tiny core like a bombshell. 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.
Today I’m so moved to remember him sharing his pain with the 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.