A Soldier's Tale
There's a big generational gap in my family. We pretty much span two decades with our immediate lot, which probably explains why I have an old soul. Since it is Veteran's Day I will focus on my grandfather, Cyril Brown, who was a soldier in WWI.
It was around the end of the war when he left Vinita, Oklahoma to join the army. His first training was in the calvary—soldiers on horseback—but that division was quickly shut down due to the dangerous new weapons coming up, so they opened up Fort Riley and sent him there to be a drill sergeant. Eventually, he was sent overseas on a troop ship, but because of fire coming from German submarines, his company's route moved in all sorts of directions to avoid being followed. He finally arrived in France and was stationed in the medical division. When a soldier was wounded, Grandfather and another soldier would race through the open fire with a stretcher, gather up the soldier, and then make a mad dash back to camp. As for Grandfather's medical needs, he told a story of being lined up in a room with other soldiers to receive any medical procedure the army deemed necessary. It was a one-day deal. Grandfather's issue was having bad sinuses, and so he was operated on with no anesthesia by a doctor who had been clipping and snipping men one at a time. The doctor cut something inside Grandfather's nose, supposedly to alleviate the blockage, but unfortunately it was very painful and remained a source of agony for years to come.
The war ended, but he remained and worked as a house finder for soldiers that were to remain in France—camps had been shut down. Grandfather knocked on doors asking for room and board, and met quite a lot of French people, especially girls. His favorite phrase was, "Ferez-vous la promenade avec moi?" "Will you go for a walk with me?"
So after that he came back to America, and with a GI Bill, attended college where he earned a law degree. He hopped a train to Arizona for a job, but it was taken and so he hopped back to Kansas City. That's where he met my beautiful grandmother, Marion, who had been a rider on the Orphan Train from a New York Catholic orphanage.
Mother says he took her (my mother) back to Vinita when she was in her teens, because he wanted her to see a real Indian. He'd grown up in this small, dusty town with horse-drawn carriages, and Indians, and stories of the Wild West. His father's family had run around with the Younger Brothers, which as you might know, were akin to Jesse James and his family. Mom says she should have listened to more of her grandfather's tales, but he was always so drunk she had written him off. So anyway they went to Vinita, and there they were, a couple of real Indians sitting on a bench and he sat down next to them and said, "Say, my daughter's never seen a real Indian before." Well, Mom was thoroughly embarrassed and just wanted to get out of there.
Now my dad was stationed in Germany, after the Korean war, and worked in the tank division with Elvis Presley. I guess they were good friends—Dad had all his records. But that's about all I know.
So, that's it. I'll always remember my grandfather and his old Pontiac. He used to come around, open the hood and pour Pepsi on the corroded battery. Then later in the day he would fall asleep on a chair with my cousin and I in his lap. He wasn't happy about the way Dad treated us, and so didn't come around very much until after the divorce, but by then he was terminally sick with cancer. I miss him now while writing this. He was coarse, and loud, and he smoked a lot, but he was kind, and most of all, a good man.