Art was a painter and a badass. He was also a Catholic Mexican-Swede. In ethnic joke form; it’s like he would build a great car and then put a bull sticker in the back window. He raised, or at least was present for the raising of, three boys. I have two boys, so I can empathize. Finally, he earned his peace and joined his wife as a bucket of ashes tossed into the Pacific Ocean.
We miss him like hell. Someday, we’ll join him. Not today, hopefully, but someday.
But this is Memorial Day, so let’s spend a few minutes remembering.
“Gramps” as we all called him was a veteran. He served in WW2 in the Pacific Theater. Initially he had a pretty sweet gig. He was stationed in Hawaii as an officer with not too much to do other than make sure the Mai Tai’s were up to par, and there were still pretty girls in Hawaii. As he tells it, he would sit on the beach with his buddies, cold drink in hand, and watch the soldiers train. The guys who were on deck for the front would be working their asses off, running across the hot beach loaded down with packs and guns and everything they knew or thought they knew about what lay ahead. Gramps and the cocky sons of bitches he was hanging with would raise a cheerful glass to them as they humped by, sweating and glaring.
Then the day came when those guys were set to leave and someone somewhere looked at a clipboard and realized they were an officer short. “Peterson!” they called out, “you’re with us.”
And so the Hawaiian vacation came to an abrupt end as he joined a bunch of guys who’d actually been preparing for this moment and who, presumably, remembered him as ‘that asshole on the beach.’ That’s the story Gramps told about the war. What happened after that…well, those stories didn’t get a laugh and Gramps was all about the punchline. The worse the joke, the more often he told it. If someone, somewhere walked into a bar, Gramps knew what happened next. You know the one about the pianist and the monkey? I do.
But one time, when I was twelve, I asked him about the war. MILK and I had been playing Samurai sword vs letter opener (a long-running game that only once ended in a trip to the ER) and I got to wondering about the history behind the sword. Gramps told me this: “When you do a beach landing, there’s some things to be aware of. If you’re on the first boat, you probably caught them off guard and they are still running around from the bombardment. If you’re on the second wave they are starting to shoot back. On the third wave, they have every goddamned gun on the island firing at you. I was on the fourth.” Then he went back to watching golf. Grandma brought him another Bloody Mary.
Gramps came back from the war with a Japanese sword, one funny story, and enough savings to buy the four bespoke suits he’d wear to get a job, get a wife, get a house. He wore those suits until they split at the elbows, selling insurance and art classes and whatever he had to sell to keep eating and painting and traveling.
I can only imagine what he saw or experienced, and it’s enough that I hope my boys are never needed for war. Like so many veterans, he didn’t want to talk about the war. He preferred talking about the battles that came next – raising three boys. Those stories were the funnier, by far. By the time he was 90, all Gramps wanted was a cold beer and a hamburger…and maybe some chips.
Every veteran deserves at least that, today of all days, as we remember those less fortunate than my Grandfather – those friends who fell beside and before him, those men and women who live on only as photographs and names and stories in the hearts of those who loved them, those who should have had more time to love them, and those children who love without knowing, or seeing, beyond the photograph and the name and the stories.
So cheers. I’ll raise a glass from the sidelines and be glad enough if history remembers me just as that asshole on the beach.