The summer before my grandmother died at the age of 94, I returned to my hometown to visit her and other relatives, to touch the past and to remind myself how it created a foundation for the future. As we talked about my grandfather, she seemed glad I remembered him with loving fondness, even though she divorced him after a series of events that left her needing more. “You got the best of him,” she said. “I’ve often thought so.”

The summer before my grandmother died at the age of 94, I returned to my hometown to visit her and other relatives, to touch the past and to remind myself how it created a foundation for the future.  As we talked about my grandfather, she seemed glad I remembered him with loving fondness, even though she divorced him after a series of events that left her needing more.  “You got the best of him,” she said. “I’ve often thought so.”
Perhaps I did.  Most of the time, I saw him at his best, the good times when he was smiling.  He loved me.  I remember the way he would grin down at me when he took me around the neighborhood where they lived, making stops at the dry cleaners below their apartment where he worked as a presser, the drug store on the corner, the bus barns, the grocery store and say, “I’ve got the kid today.” He meant it to sound like he was complaining but no one bought it.  His smile gave the truth away.  He taught me to pitch horse shoes and he was the best I’ve ever seen.  He made a ringer almost every time through sheer skill.  Sometimes he rolled up his shirt sleeves and filled my grandmother’s deep double sink in the kitchen full of water, so we could play “boats” with several plastic toys he’d found somewhere.
         He possessed a fine, dry wit and he used it with skill.  He loved to joke, and he knew everyone or so it seemed to me.
          But he had served in the US Army, in the Pacific Theater during World War II.  He was on an island called Leyte in the Philippine Islands. He saw plenty of action and for the remainder of his life, shrapnel would work its way out of deep in his body without warning.  It could be painful, but he endured it.  When he talked about the war, like a lot of men who lived through hell, he said little but what he did, painted a terrible and vivid picture.
          He and my grandmother wrote to each other during the war.  She was a young widow and they never met until he came home.  In what always seemed like a very romantic story, an event that almost insured they would wed, when he got back, he arrived at her house in the middle of the night.  Rather than wake her up, he slept on the porch and she found him there when she came outside to bring in the milk.
          But he knew a darkness no one could touch.  Most of the time, he remained sober but sometimes, when the terrible memories bombarded him, or something triggered what we now call PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), he was different. 
          I seldom saw him at his worst. I still miss my grandpa.  I miss the way he’d smile and tell other adults he had “the kid” today as if he minded when he loved the times we spent together.  I’m glad I had what my grandmother called the best of him and I’ll not forget, not the good or the bad.
          Although I’ve traveled many miles since we last met, I’m still glad my grandfather, Claude Roberts, was one of the many people who have shared the journey with me.  And, the good Lord willing, maybe we’ll meet again in a brighter, better place where the past won’t haunt the future and the ugly things we knew in life have been left behind.







Lee Ann Murphy is a staff writer and writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.