When you’re a kid, grandparents serve as instant gratification for all things sugary and noisy. Mine were no exception. Grandma made Chef Boyardee pizza on the nights I slept over, and we all had chocolate-dipped cones at Fosters Freeze on Sundays. As far as I knew, grandpa was just grandpa. The grandpa who conspired with me to scare grandma or dad with a miniature cannon we periodically fired when no one was looking. The one who worked in the fireworks booth for the Lions Club and put on the best 4th of July celebrations ever (even when one of the pyrotechnics went awry and left its permanent mark in grandpa’s perfectly-manicured lawn). The grandpa who put firecrackers on the cactus tips and blew the thing to shreds … with dad’s help, of course.
I always knew my grandpa believed in serving his community, but it was my husband, Roy, who drew my attention to grandpa’s military service in World War II. In a keepsake letter for the family, and in my grandmother’s impeccable script, she wrote of being married barely four months when grandpa’s draft notice arrived, and she gave birth to my father while grandpa was away. She was a single mom for 2 ½ years. It turns out my delicate grandma, who’d suffered from polio as a child and couldn’t drive, was completely capable of taking charge when the situation demanded it.
Gilbert Zank “fought in the battles of Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe,” and shortly after D-Day, his unit was “attached to General Patton’s 3rd Army and Headquarters Battalion A Company and began the historic drive across France.” I needed to meet these people!
On a summer afternoon, my grandfather spoke about the war in deep detail. As each of them spoke, I saw a couple both proud and saddened by what they had experienced. They held hands – a poignant gesture after nearly 70 years of marriage. We drank Coca Cola until the day’s light gave way to the pink glow which always seems to decorate Hesperia’s sky. And when they hugged us goodbye, I felt I was hugging history.
I’ve come to realize that the day we designate for honoring grandparents often passes unrecognized. But not anymore. Gilbert and Margaret Zank gave me one of the best gifts of my adult life – the generous gift of their time and conversation. Sunday, September 8th is National Grandparents Day. Reach out to yours; a new memory is just waiting to be discovered.