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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An old Soldier and his wooden bench

The history making US election is finally over and we have a new President-elect Barack Obama. He supports a rapid military withdrawal from Iraq regardless of it's outcome which brings me to ponder about my grandpa's war stories of the past. Grandpa was a proud man and he passed away at the age of 92 just a few years back. I have never served in the military. The idea is fairly laughable since I have virtually no self-discipline and a more-than-healthy questioning of authority. The roots of my appreciation for the military, however, runs deep. My grandfather was a military man himself and his stories have always inspired me to appreciate those who came before me, willingly sacrifice themselves for future generations. I traveled to Taiwan quite often when I was growing up and among one of the most memorable trips was a trip I took with my sister to visit my grandparents in Taipei.

A rooster crows urgently in the distance. I turn over in my bed, immediately feeling the effects of jet lag. A few hours earlier on this summer morning, I had just arrived to visit my grandpa in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. This island off the coast of China in Southeast Asia is nearly half a world away. My sister shook me into consciousness with a reference to hot yummy porridge and something about a climb with Yeh Yeh(Grandpa) at Tiger's Head Mountain in Sungshan Nature Reserve on the southern edge of the city.

"Wake up! Wake up! We're going to climb the mountain with Yeh Yeh (my then 72 year old grandfather)."

I looked at the clock and sighed. It is too early. Who would want to go mountain climbing at five in the morning? I wonder and then remember this is Asia, where it's common for the old to exercise early in order to avoid the heat of the day. Upon arriving at the foothills of the mountain, Grandpa tooks us to an open air little street vendor restaurant where we had our yummy breakfast. It was a traditional breakfast where dou jiang and tasty "you tiao" (pronounced YO TEE-YAU) foot-long pieces of dough deep fried until it's dark brown is served. One of the great pleasures of eating breakfast here is to get a hot bowl of soybean milk on a cold crisp almost winter like morning. Allow the steam from the soybean milk to bathe your face as you slurp up the drink and dunk thick slices of sponge cake into the dou jiang. Ahhh...heaven. We sat giggling on wooden benches enjoying fresh mountain air as we sipped up our hot dou jiang. Grandpa normally began his stories talking about these wooden benches that we were all sitting on. He said back then when he was little, these wooden benches were everywhere. They had them in theatres, community events, churches and even in war room command posts.

After breakfast he led us to begin our ascending to the top. The journey will last about 3 hours and besides the beautiful scenery and fresh mountain air, we got to enjoy a little history lesson as well. All his stories were about wars, his escape from China to Taiwan and how his career later took him to many places in the world. Years later, I sat idly on similar benches my grandfather and I would visit on our many long climbs. It is on benches that he would tell me stories, of his life, as well as others he met along the way. Of good times and bad and of loss and happiness.

Grandpa has moved on to a different place as I sat on these benches many years later. I revisit the mountain where my grandpa once took me many times since that early morning day. My grandfather worked hard for many years and traveled to many destinations in the world, but none, I'm sure, similar to the one he has most recently visited. I imagine it to be a place of content for him, a place to relive old memories and seeing old faces. I am sure that he is also comforted by the fact that he must no longer suffered as he did before he moved on.

He, my grandfather, was a master at story telling, which I believe was conjuring up the best in those he met along his journey. I believe this to be true, especially in me, his only grandchild. He believed in me, as if there was no one else to stand behind. On this veteran day and just like those who sacrifice themselves for the future generations, my grandfather did the same for me.

I miss my grandfather, but knows he is sitting on a similar bench, in a different place.


Jon said...

You are following well in your grandfather's footstep as a story teller. Thanks for sharing.

Lenny Hj said...

I want to have some breakfast too!

Anita said...

My grandfather didn’t tell me his story, I discovered it through conversations not meant for me; the way I learned everything as a child.

Born in the East End of London, Archer Root and his two sisters were orphaned. The girls: both blonde and pretty, were adopted. He went to a Barnardo Home. Nine-year-old Archer didn’t have tram fare, so every Sunday, he walked across London to visit the girls. They stayed close until his death.

My mother was his eighth child, and raising a family of nine on a bricklayer’s wages in the nineteen twenties didn’t leave much time for nurture. Putting food on the table took every ounce of Archer’s energy. He wasn’t big and rough with calloused hands, as you would expect, but short and slight, with a soft voice which required concentration to hear.

A socialist to his core, Mother said he knew every word of ‘The Red Flag’, but I never heard him sing once. Every one of his children grew up taller than him, taught to tell the truth and believe in a days’ work for a day’s pay. Five of his six sons went to fight in the war, but they all came back, even the one reported killed in action. He walked through the door the same day the telegram came.
“Told yer the Huns couldn’t do for ‘im,” Grandad said, while Grandma sobbed into her son’s shoulder.

An uncle complained at dinner, once, ‘Isn’t it about time I got the first slice of the joint?’
Spread out before me an inch beneath my chin, that table looked huge and the enveloping silence threatened to suffocate us all. Then a spoon, dropped from nerveless fingers and tinkled against a glass. My mother’s hand froze above the vegetable dish. A cousin groaned for her father, a man well into his thirties.
I’m sure I heard him swallow as we waited.
Grandad’s expression didn’t change, but his knife slowed a little “Give the boy the first slice, Annie,” he said. “But just this once, mind.”
Fifteen people exhaled in unison and Grandma slapped the beef onto uncle’s plate with a scowl. It must have tasted like ash. We all watched him eat it.

I never felt special in his house, not as the third youngest of twenty grandchildren, although on Saturday afternoons he was mine for a while. It was then, he sat in his favourite chair and read the racing results, while I stood behind it and brushed his hair.

His most startling feature, it grew thick as rope and a bright, platinum blond. Soft and warm in my fingers, it gleamed almost silver in the firelight from the hearth in their tiny parlour.
I never tired of my self imposed task, although finally my grandmother would say with a sigh, ‘That’s enough now, dear.’
Without fail, Grandad’s hand would cover mine and he’d say gently, ‘Leave her be.’

He never told me stories, but from him I learned that true strength has nothing to do with physical size; that you don’t need to shout to be heard. Respect is everything and if you don’t work, you don’t get to eat. Nor should you expect to. Not a bad legacy really from an East End orphan.

Obulala said...

I wish my grandfather had been able to tell me his stories. He passed away when I was 22 and I never had the chance to get to know him as an adult.

Another Jen said...

I never met my grandfather in person. All the stories was told to me by my grandmother. She outlived him by 35 years after the great war. He was a strong man and equally so was my grandmother.

Jblue said...

You are so bless to have a relationship with your grandpa and I am sure you will be a great one someday as well just by the way to write.

I am no Obama Fan..but life goes on though.

Berry said...

Oh just WOW! That gave me goosebumps! God bless you for all the work you do!

Rootbear boy said...

My grandpa is still here physically but his mind is gone a while back. He used to tell me stories too but nowadays he just stares at me.

My grandfather has Alzheimer's. :(
and I miss him dearly.

Gboy said...

This was a good story man. We need more grandfathers in our communities. I don't mean 35 year old "GRAND"fathers either. We need more seasoned men like your Grandafther. The best memory I have of my Grand father is riding on the back of his Pick-up while he checked on "massas" cows. This was a summer ritual for me and my cousins. For 2 weeks out the year we would all go to the country where my people are from and chill with our Grandparents. I miss those days.

Bellina Higgins said...

I had a chance to know one of my grandfathers but he was going senile at that time. In spite of that, he had a great sense of humor and a glint in his eye that I remember to this day. He was a great man and I only wish I had the opportunity to know him while he was in his prime.

Gopalin 12! said...

What a beautiful, well written post. I loved it! So sweet. I wish I had a granpa story to share but unfortunately, I don't know any of my grandfathers.

I know the one from my mother's side was a fisherman and was gone alot.

Robin said...

You have such a great story and this post was just one of the best I have read in a long time.

Julong said...

I like this story

Sadia Hussain said...

A story that touches the heart!
It's a privelage to be able to share moments like these , I too was fortunate to hear narrations from my grandparents ; it's something one cherishes dearly.

online bingo said...

Very interesting story, thanks for taking the time to share with us.

Amy said...

Some may be wicked, and some may be despicable. Only when I put myself in their position did I know they are more miserable than I. So forgive all that you have met, no matter what kind of persons they are.
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