Monday I was in Korea
It’s another Monday night, my family and I are gathered around me-maw’s new mahogany wood, sheet covered, dinner table. Our plates are pilled with mashed potatoes, cornbread, fried chicken, green beans and corn on the cob. We assemble as a family to listen to the ups and downs of the past week and when our plates are empty and our bellies full my grandfather begins tell us of the good ole days. He tells of days when the work was harder and the times were simpler, when men were men and people could be trusted by their words to carry out their actions. Papaw, as my grandfather is affectionately called, leans back in his special chair; high and with a quilted pillow in the seat for his long legs and bad back, he intertwines his fingers and I see him glare off into the middle distance, remembering his younger days. My sweet papaw, whose hair has turned white and the sun from a farmers life has wrinkled his skin, tells us all one of his stories. I don’t have a favorite one, I love them all. He has stories from when he fought in Korea, to when he was “going steady” with my grandmother (me-maw), to when he was growing up working on the farm. Tonight, when the air is hot and iced tea sweats through the glasses, with his deep southern drawl, he talks about the war.
“I recall this one time, my troop and I was on our way to a new campsite, we had to walk through a field of grass, it was very tall grass all the way up to your chest, and you couldn’t see anything. I was so on edge. The enemy could be there in that grass; you could have walked over top of them and never even seen them. We were all spread out and bent over walking through so cautious, trying not to be seen or heard.”
I sat there with my elbows on the table and my head in my hands, I was on edge, despite hearing this story more than once it still intrigued me every time he recalled it. How brave he was, to trust in himself and his troop to walk blindly through the grass with his helmet on, gun drawn and 40 pounds of gear on his back. Retelling it, his smile fades; he puts his elbows on the table and leans over. I noticed that everyone else leans in too trying to get closer. I’ve found myself draw in, walking in the grass beside him.
“It was so quiet, the only the sounds were of our feet in the mud and bodies brushing against the grass. Three other men were in front of me when all of a sudden a great mass of birds took off out of the grass, straight up into the air. We all dropped down into the grass, I knew right then it was a massive strike, a grenade had gone off or someone was firing mortars on us. I don’t think I have ever been as startled as in that moment. Those dumb birds made us all think we were dead.”
He started to laugh, we laughed with him. He leaned back in his chair again, his fingers intertwined across his belly. His smile fades again. Everyone else starts to chat among themselves, but I sit back and look at my papaw, his faded smile and eyes looking down at the table. I know he must be remembering things he can’t tell us. Stories that didn’t turn out funny, his tiny green eyes glaze over and I catch him drift away, back to Korea. I remember other stories Papaw has told me, stories were driving through the darkness on the edge of a mountain behind enemy lines, drinking the water from rice fields and getting shot at was just another day, just another duty for his country, and just another sacrifice till he could get home to his wife to be. So much depended upon a man, who went to war and came back home, now so many rely on a husband, a father, and a papaw.
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