We were visiting them, one of our few annual trips back home. My family only lives several hours away, but it might as well be across the country. We don’t get home very often.
We always make sure we see my grandparents. They live in the country, in the house that Granddad lived in when he was small. They are in their mid-90s. Grandma bakes and does laundry and walks up the flight of stairs in their home every day. Granddad tends his garden which is down a flight of stairs in the other direction.
Their vitality amazes me, but it shouldn’t. They have a lot of strength and a lot of health in their bodies.
We sat in the living room, chatting about life and the people we all know, and some of the people that they know and I only know through conversations we’ve had over the years. The kids sat on the floor and rolled around on the carpet like my brothers and cousins and I did when we were young. They wandered to the dining room where candy sat waiting in covered bowls, to the kitchen where treats are displayed in the open, boxes of cookies and fresh baked cookies and bags of candy and salty snacks and other goodies we don’t have at home.
"Do they want milk?" Grandma asks. "We have milk, or if they want soda, I think there’s some out there."
The kids come into the living room chomping on little bite-sized candy bars, each wrapped in silver. I can’t resist one. After all, we are at Grandma and Granddad’s house. You can’t leave without your fill of sugar.
“What’d ya get?” Granddad asks me. He’s interested in my candy. “Milky Way,” I respond through my caramel-fused teeth.
“Ohhhhh, I can’t eat those,” he says, shaking his head. “I had too many of them once.”
“Why not?” we all asked, except for Grandma. She knows this story.
“We were on a boat in the war, picking up some guys to bring them back from where they were. There were boxes of Milky Ways on the boat for us to eat. I ate Milky Ways all day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I got sick on the boat. I haven’t been able to eat ‘em since.” He shakes his head again, rubs the top of his scalp and closes his eyes against the memory of being on a boat in the ocean in his 20s, sick as a dog, with only candy bars to settle his stomach.
I had never heard this before. I knew Granddad was in the war, knew where he went, but over the years my memories had faded. I definitely had not heard this detail about his life in the 1940s. My husband and I asked questions: what did you do, where did you go, how long was the boat trip, who were the guys you were picking up, what year was it, did you really only have candy bars to eat?
I hate to admit that some of the details of that story are lost in my mind again. I should remember them; that day, my family and I said very little as Granddad talked about his experience and answered our questions about his time in American history. We were in the presence of a national treasure, one of the diminishing group of veterans from World War II. Probably my husband would remember. I can certainly call Granddad and ask him to tell me that story again. I could write it down. I should write it down.
But one thing is certain: I will never forget that Granddad can’t eat Milky Ways.
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