Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Hero In Tears

As a kid, my maternal Grandparents had a huge role in my life. Joe & Eleanor Turretto, Sicilian & Portuguese respectively did as much to raise me and shape who I am today as my parents. When my folks were in tough financial times they were there to help. I learned many of the lessons that made me the man I am from them. From Grandma I learned the value of frugality and repugnance toward debt. From Grandpa the importance of putting others needs ahead of my own. My Grandmother used to tell a story about Gramps about a day, early in their marriage in which Gramps bought a candy bar before getting on the bus to ride home to Santa Clara from work in downtown San Jose. After opening it he became wracked with guilt over the indulgence, closed the wrapper and tucked it into his bag to bring home to share with Grandma and my Mother before he had any of it. That’s just the way he is.

Gramps served in WWII in the United States Army Air Corps 345th Bomb Group. They hop scotched their way through New Guinea and the Philippines in a deadly tug of war with the Japanese. Grandpa was a radioman and he repaired the radio equipment on the B-25 Mitchell bombers. His scrapbook contains one of the most terrifying photos I’ve seen. A building where he was during a Japanese raid, on one side a crater from a 500lb bomb and on the other the smoldering wreckage of a Yokosuka D4Y4 dive bomber that turned Kamikaze when he realized that his bomb would miss its target. Luckily, the Japanese pilot missed twice that day and the second of the two would be his last. I wish I could pull that photo out and scan it but it's stuck in the scrap book and really fragile. I fear that I'd destroy it in an attempt to remove it. Gramps endured a bout with malaria in addition to the combat and spent five years in the Air Corps. Four of which were in theatre. They didn’t do the 1yr on 1yr off thing that our deployed forces do now. Back then, you went to War and stayed there until it was over.

“We won’t come home till it’s over, over there…..”

Gramps is likely the best fisherman I have ever met. He taught me everything I know which is a mere fraction of what he knows because young boys don’t listen. He taught me how to read a river, how to look at the flow and the contours of the bottom and determine how food items would move in the water, where the fish would be and how to catch them. He’d walk me up to the bank tell me to cast my line upstream of a rock or riffle then point to the eddy where the fish would be waiting…and he’d be right. Every time. I can still do it and it blows Kathy’s mind when I point out a spot for her and she catches a fish.

Though he was never a hunter, Gramps was amazing at spotting game and predicting their behavior. I recall numerous detours in our fishing to hike up and around hills to get a look at deer and bear. He taught me where to look out for rattlesnakes and kept me from getting bit at least twice.

Gramps was as strong as a mule. Even in my teens as a very fit, very athletic football player it was all I could do to keep up with him hiking into and out of river canyons. The man could hike up the steepest slope, carrying rod and tackle, never stumbling and always yakking away either telling a story or trying to impart some knowledge to me. I’d be gasping for air, doing my best to keep up with the man, 46 years my senior, doing my best to mutter “uh-huh” in response to what he was telling me.

Yesterday, I signed the paperwork to get Gramps into an assisted living facility. He’s 88 years old, recently widowed and for the first time in his entire life he’s alone. He’s unable to care for himself, overcome with grief and loneliness and terrified of the overwhelming change in his life after 64 years of Marriage to my Grandmother.

The sight of my hero and mentor in tears is among the most gut wrenching things I have ever experienced but I made a commitment to my Grandparents when I moved back to the Bay Area to take care of them as they aged and when one or the other passed. It’s a daunting task, but one that I’ve taken on willingly as it is the only means I have to pay back all that they did for me.

1 comment:

  1. more proof that the best things in life aren't things. and those sicilians sure do like to fish. :)