Friday, April 24, 2009

A Tribute to a Special Man

Today would be my maternal grandfather's 96th birthday if he was still living. He passed away one day after his 91st birthday in 2004. He had been in the hospital a week and passed peacefully.

My husband and my grandfather were very close. They had sports in common, and they had U.S. Army service in common. My grandfather was drafted and served in World War II. Hubby had him pin on his Captains bars when he was promoted, and Grandpa would come to any event that was pre-planned when we lived in Missouri (it was within driving distance).

Hubby went to Kuwait in August of 2003, and he had come home for his R&R at the end of March, 2004. My right arm paralyzed completely and suddenly around the end of February (yes, I know the exact date!), and he was going through the process of trying to stay stateside for my medical situation. My mom had already spent four complete weeks with me and the kids to help.

Hubby's command in Kuwait released him, and his branch reassigned him in St. Louis (just on the other side of the Mississippi river from where we lived in Illinois), and he did not have to return. I tell you all this because of the comment my uncle made at my grandfather's funeral. It was kind of a light bulb moment for all of us.

"If Kayren's arm hadn't been paralyzed, you wouldn't have been here for Grandpa's funeral."

Now I don't think God struck me or anything, but I think he waited to heal me.

I was close to my grandpa, too. My mother and I lived with my grandparent's until I was almost three (my father divorced my mother immediately upon returning from Viet Nam). I also inherited his knack for accounting and being really particular about it, his enjoyment of stamp collecting, and his love of ice cream. I would travel with my grandparent's in the summer to visit my great-grandparents about three hours away in Monett, Missouri, and one night while we were there my grandpa and I would walk up to the Dairy Queen a few streets over and up, get a treat, and eat it as we walked back to the house.

My grandpa lived in the middle of the dust bowl in Kansas, through the Depression, and signed up for the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). He ended up over in the Northwest part of the United States. Here he is at Ruffneck Peak, El. 9419, Ft. Stanley, Idaho, Aug. 22, 1936.

The man labeled all his pictures, with details. If it weren't for him, our family would not have the photos it does. Here are some more pictures from when he was with the CCC.

There are a few pictures of his friends with a fish along with this one, and it looks an awful lot like the same fish. I don't really know, but I'm suspicious. It's something like a 13 lb. salmon. I've already put the picture away so I can't read those details on the back again and didn't write them down the first time.

When his time was up he was to be sent back to Kansas where they originally picked him up on the train, but he had someone give him a fake letter that he had a job in San Francisco, because he wanted to go to California. He got there, but he wasn't able to get a job, and his youngest brother Claude worked it out so that he could come back to Kansas, work at the diner where he did, and go to school at Parsons Business College. Grandpa had just enough money for a share-the-ride program to get back, and Parsons Business College is where he met my Grandma.

My grandma always told me two things that other people told her: that she shouldn't marry Grandpa because he was too short, and that she shouldn't marry Grandpa because it would make him more likely to be drafted.

Well, he was drafted, but I don't know that it had anything to do with being married.

Grandma was expecting my mom when Grandpa left for Europe. Once she had my mom, he got a telegram, but all it said was that mom and baby were fine. It didn't tell him if he had a son or a daughter. It was a week or two before he was able to find out. When you watch 'Saving Private Ryan' you see how it was probably difficult for notice to get around.

When I was growing up Grandma always ironed Grandpa's underwear and white undershirts. I asked her once why she did it. She told me that she always said that if Grandpa came home from the war, that she would always iron his underwear and undershirts. Good thing she didn't use starch, I guess.

While Grandpa was over in Europe, he 'ran into' his brother-in-law, my Grandma's brother Bill. Here they are in Obermoos, Austria.

When Grandpa came back from the war, he went to work for the Corps of Engineers in Mountain Home, Arkansas, that was responsible for building both of the dams. He worked for them until he retired, and then he stayed busy being the Financial Secretary at church. He'd been doing it anyway in his non-work hours, but he couldn't just sit at home once he retired.

When my grandparents were getting ready to go on a European tour tracing the route Grandpa's unit took in WWII (along with the rest of his group), the church took up donations for a money tree. I still remember to this day the story he told in church that night when they presented the tree. He had recently been counting money and envelopes, and he was a meticulous man, but he was $50 short. He couldn't find it anywhere, and this was well before the days of the counting committees you see now. Well, he put in his own money to make up the difference, but he didn't tell anyone, not even Grandma. The money tree had well more than $50 on it.

Grandpa loved the Razorbacks. He got us season tickets to the football games in Fayetteville one year for Christmas when we lived close enough to go with him. Here are Hubby and Grandpa back in the late 80's/early 90's.

I remember whenever I traveled with my Grandpa anywhere that we always had to stop at the post office. If it was a new place we were traveling, we would 'look for the flag.' Obviously that works in small towns the best, but all post offices fly the U.S. flag, and everyone doesn't, so it's an easy marker.

Because if you're not a stamp collector you probably don't know that if you live somewhere different you might have different plate numbers that print on your stamps, or on your coils, or on your booklets. All kinds of stuff that can be different just because it's in a different place, and sometimes Grandpa would drive a few towns over just to check for different numbers. Sometimes they'd let him look without buying if they were the same.

So when they built a new post office in my home town, guess who got to be the very first person to make a purchase? Yep, Grandpa. 85 years old and wearing a Looney Tunes tie.

On the off chance this caption can't be read once I post, it says, "Everett Wheeler, an 85-year-old Mountain Home stamp collector who's been collecting for 53 years, was the first person to buy stamps at the new Mountain Home Post Office Monday morning."

Pretty cool, huh?

Well, because you are probably tired of me going on and on about my Grandpa, I guess I can wrap this up. I'm obviously a little partial to my Grandpa, but I truly think this generation was the greatest, just like Tom Brokaw's book says.

Oh, Caboose's middle name is Everett after my grandfather. This is a picture of my grandpa in December, 2001,

and here is Caboose at that same time climbing up in Grandpa's chair.

Apparently he was unknowingly preparing for the day when Chatty's children will be taking care of him so he doesn't have to go to the nursing home, not planning to marry and have his own children and all.


Sabba and Nanny said...

What a lovely tribute to your grandfather. He must have been a wonderful man.

Thanks for stopping by my blog today. It was nice of you to leave a comment.

By the way, I too am a stamp collector although not very active of late. My dad collected coins and stamps, and I always found stamps a marvelous source of knowledge about the world around us. --Jim S.

Mari said...

I loved reading about your Grandfathers. I believe they were the greatest generation too. I live yoru Grandpa's tie - I can tell I would have liked him!

Betsy said...

What a sweet tribute! My grandpa was 93 when he died in 2007. They were close in age!

I always enjoy looking at old photos and hearing the stories behind fun!

The money tree is an especially sweet story...reminds me of "It's A Wonderful Life"! :)

Heather and Reese said...

I can't wait to go back and read this Kayren. What an special tribute to your grandfather!


Lora said...

What a wonderful post about your grandpa, Kayren! He sounds like a great man. There IS something about that generation, isn't there? I know my grandpa was an amazing man~I could go on and on about him, too:)

MomsTheWord said...

Sweet Kayren, I've never seen some of those pics of Grandpa. Thanks for memorializing him so well. Mom is here this weekend and she's reading too.

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