Perusing Facebook this morning, I came across a post by a friend, Tim Jordan, who wrote a story about his grandfather. The story was quite moving and I asked him if I could publish it here, of which he gave me permission. So for your consideration, here it is.
My grandfather was in WWI.
That’s a fact that still absolutely confounds me but my mom was the youngest of 7 children, the only girl, and there was a significant gap between her and her youngest brother. I remember a picture from the newspaper of him at the train station holding a sign that said GO TO HELL GERMANY and that also confused me as a child because my grandfather was the gentlest of men and I couldn’t even imagine him saying hell, which along with butt and guts I considered the worst of words at that age.
My grandparents lived in Olla, Louisiana, more accurately on the outskirts of Olla, in the middle of fucking nowhere; an ill kept state road farting away into nothingness just before making it to their home. A home my grandfather carved out of the landscape using stones and trees from the very land where the house stood. It was purely functional, a small 4 room shack with a porch and a cistern off to the side, long sealed away before I was born and the source of many warnings I ignored. How I never ended up as a literal Timmy in the well I’ll never know.
Over the last 20 years or so I became more and more interested in Grandpa John and in talking to my mother we both began to slowly realize a pattern of severe depression and possibly psychosis. He never held a job for long and spent lots of time at home rarely moving from his favorite chair except to hunt the occasional squirrel. There were lots of other signs too but I won’t go into them here because I really want to go back to WWI.
Grandpa wasn’t in France long, maybe about three weeks, before he was sent back home. He was uninjured physically but most definitely suffering from what we would now call PTSD. He was never quite the same, outwardly the gentle giant we all knew, but prone to bouts of psychosis where he didn’t know where he was, vomited profusely, cursed up a storm, railing against the horrors he saw in the war. I heard some of these stories as a child, listening in where I wasn’t supposed to, and I can remember climbing up in his lap as a child to comfort him even though I didn’t understand at all what was going on with him. I never saw him in any of those states though. He was always so kind and loving and willing to hold us kids for as long as he could, before we wiggled away to chase the cats in the yard or catch lizards that were cute until they bit you.
Grandpa eventually fell and broke his hip, spent a while in the hospital, then came home and required a hospital bed and after care. I can’t say what happened to his mind at that point, maybe it was dementia, which runs pretty rampantly on the other side of the family, but it wasn’t like dementia I’d ever seen before. He just seemed to give up and sadly languished there for a decade or more.
He was mostly silent but would occasionally shock everyone by talking and letting us all know how aware he was about what was going on around him. Maybe those were just random moments of lucidity. In the 80s, small town America, physical and mental rehab weren’t exactly the norm so nobody really knows what was going on with him. Occasionally my grandma would wake up in the middle of the night to find that he had climbed out of bed and was sitting in his favorite chair. These moments made me profoundly sad for him.
When he died, the first of my grandparents to pass away, I was glad that he was finally at peace but I felt like I hardly knew the man yet at the same time I felt like he was a kindred spirit. We don’t have much left of him anymore. We have some pictures and my mom has his favorite coffee cup, a little dainty piece of china decorated with pink flowers.
I can always remember the day he died because of what my grandmother said one time when were visiting his grave. “He died on the longest day of the year,” she said. “It was certainly the longest day for me.”