I’ve never known hands as thick as his. Large and aged, they held stories untold. Rather than reveal the stories they housed, those hands squeezed. They teased. Oh, how I’d shudder when those hands gripped my shoulders. When those impossibly large fingers poked my ribs.
“Stop, Grandpa!!!!!” We’d all squeal, “Seriously, Grandpa, that hurts!!”
I’m not certain that he ever realized his own hands’ strength.
Living a state apart, my visits to Grandpa were few. Time with Grandpa was spent riding through his large yard on the lawnmower, looking over his expansive garden. Sometimes, however, I wasn’t sure what to talk to Grandpa about. I don’t remember a lot of serious conversations.
Until I wrote him a letter.
Completing my fourth grade assignment to write about my hero, I needed more information from my hero…my grandpa. I wish I still had the letter I wrote. In it, I revealed to him that his service in World War 2 had not gone unappreciated by his grandchildren. I understood that he, along with thousands of other men, had been an integral part of the freedom I now had in this country I call home.
Upon receiving my letter, his large hands penned one back. Giving me bits of information with a promise to share more in person during an upcoming visit, this letter became an immediate treasure. I tucked it away in my keepsake box, knowing it was one I’d hold onto forever.
I received your letter and read it and I said, that the nicest letter I ever received. I am not much in writing letters, but you are best. The ship that I was on was Heavy Cruiser No38. USS San Francisco. She weighed 10,000 tons. She carry crews above 1100 men. They call her Lady Luck. 50 years ago this Nov.12-13 we had sea battle. I will tell you more about it sometime. We will sit down. I will tell you. We will be coming down this weekend. See you then. Thank you Emily. I love you.
Your GrandDad Mauseth
I remember well the following visit. Listening intently, we sat side-by-side in the living room, pouring over several books and small boxes of photos and newspaper clippings. His now wrinkled hands held photos of his younger self. Handsomely dressed in uniform, he held his head high in the photos. I was so proud of the bravery that I saw in his young eyes. And the pride that I saw in his older eyes. He, too, knew the importance of his role.
There are things I regret from my younger years. I wish I’d held onto the report I wrote about Grandpa. I don’t remember exactly what it said. What I do remember, though, is the deeper appreciation for my grandpa that report gave. I regret not spending the little time I had with Grandpa more wisely. I wish I’d drank in the stories of his childhood like I drank in the stories of the war that afternoon when we sat on the couch.
At Grandpa’s funeral, I couldn’t bring myself to look in his casket. Over the years, his giant hands had become plauged by arthritis. I knew this, and I had seen some of the effects during the previous years. But stories from my father about how curled and crippled his hands had become near the end of his life, I couldn’t look. I didn’t want my last sight of him to be crippled hands. Honored by the request to sing at his funeral, I stood tall…after all, Grandpa had been the one who taught me to be proud of my 6 foot-1 inch frame. And as I straightened my back and opened my lungs to sing Amazing Grace, I knew I had to find that letter.
Now, sometime later, that letter from Grandpa hangs framed next to my writing desk.
I sometimes imagine his hands, strong and large, penning the words on that paper. Those hands. My brother inherited those hands, and sometimes I wish Grandpa could have met my son, who although still very young, shows signs of those same thick hands.
And so this Memorial Day weekend, I remember Grandpa. I remember his service to this country so long ago. I was proud of him then, and I’m still proud of him now. I can still hear the trumpeter loudly sounding the infamous taps at Grandpa’s gravesite. My jewelry box houses the shell from the rifles fired at his burial. And this weekend I remember. And I am thankful. Love you, Grandpa!