It was 10:20 on Tuesday morning when my brother and I were on our way to the eye doctor when we passed their house. Our conversation halted when we saw the dozen or so vehicles in the driveway and yard. Blinking back tears, I began praying for their family to have peace.
It was twelve years ago, soon after we moved in, that they had invited us over to their house for the first time. Our first neighbors to extend such an invitation. They knew everyone in our area. Our next door neighbor? Their son was married to her daughter. The lady just down the road? They’d been in the same quilting club for decades. The goat farmer down the road? Of course they knew him. The list went on.
Over the next few years our family stopped by from time to time, always to be welcomed with big hugs, lots of amazing stories, a snack and an command to come back and visit again.
It was several years ago when my sister (Helena), and I started going to their house more often. In time they adopted us as their granddaughters and we began calling them Grandpa Eddie and Grandma Nellie. Grandpa Eddie’s stories of WW2 brought history to life. Through the hours I spent listening to him, looking at war memorabilia and pictures of war cemeteries connected to the battles Grandpa Eddie had taken part in, my thankfulness for freedom and my awareness of the price it had cost grew.
A couple years ago there was a LCT (Landing Craft Tank) in the river not far from where we live where people could go on field trips. Grandpa Eddie had been stationed on one for several years during WW2, taking place in some of the most important battles of the entire war. (He was in five invasions before he turned 20.) Grandpa Eddie and Grandma Nellie went with our family and a few friends to go through the LCT. Hearing Grandpa Eddie’s stories while actually on the LCT was amazing.
When Grandpa Eddie told Helena and I we should start joining them for their weekly game night with two other couples who they’d known for basically forever, I was excited. Those Wednesday nights became my most looked-forward to event of the week. Most of the time we would finally leave around 10:30 or 11:00 at night with the other three couples still going strong. They made being in your 80’s look like fun.
We learned how to play Spades, Sequence and several other card games. We got to sample delicious desserts. We were welcomed with open arms into their inside jokes, old stories and lives. We felt at home. We knew we were loved. It was wonderful.
They were all so very interested in my stories, asking what I was writing, how my books were doing, celebrating with me when I reached a milestone and cheering me on. When I published my first book I gave them each a copy and they made sure I signed each of them, then fussed at me if I wrote a longer note in someone else’s book.
Eventually life, trips and sickness broke up our happy little Wednesday nights, but we would still visit whenever we could. I resisted the end of the Wednesday night era at first, but after praying about it, I was able to find peace and just be thankful for the time we’d had. And I was oh, so very, very thankful they’ed allowed us to join them.
It was quite a few months ago one of our many visits when Grandpa Eddie calmly told us they had just found out he had cancer. The next couple of months when we visited we heard about how wonderful the doctors were. How sweet the nurses were. How everyone treated him with such kindness and care. We weren’t surprised. Grandpa Eddie had always focused on the positive. Everyone loved him.
Then came the day soon after we got back from Europe when he told us they couldn’t do any more and he’d been sent home for hospice care. Even with the pain evident on his face, he’d ask how we were doing, share about his life and introduce us to anyone who stopped by as his adopted granddaughters.
And lots of people stopped by. As hospitable as they come, Grandpa Eddie and Grandma Nellie had friends all over the world who they’d welcomed into their lives at one time or another. They would often tell us about a visit, phone call or letter from someone who they’d met years before. They even had whole classrooms who had adopted Grandpa Eddie as their WW2 veteran and wrote thank you cards for him. At one time he was even in a documentary about Honor Flights
and ended up in the newspaper several times.
For years Helena and I had taken them cookies on the Forth of July, thanking him for his service. Only, this year we weren’t sure he would still be here at that time so we visited him earlier. He was weak, but still as happy and sweet as ever. A couple of weeks later our yearly Forth of July visit was able to take place after all.
* * *
Tuesday night we did, indeed, receive a call from one of our good friends (who we had met at Grandpa Eddie’s) that Grandpa Eddie had passed away that morning. Our friend said that he’d visited him just a couple days earlier and Grandpa Eddie had been too weak to talk much, but he’d pointed up to heaven and said “I’ll see you up there.”
I will forever be thankful for what Grandpa Eddie did for our country
, for his willingness to share his stories with others and for his great love and hospitality. He was a man I am proud to have known and I will always treasure the years I got to spend with him. And when I’m in my 80’s, I hope I can help others make wonderful memories, too.