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Silver and Gold
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live the way my eighty-two year old grandfather has lived. For the past sixteen years I’ve paced the halls of his beautiful ocean front home in Chatham, Cape Cod with such wonder. Grandma and Grandpa Keegan have lived there for the fifty years that they’ve been married. The entirety of their five children have been born in the downstairs living room, and each time my Grandfather broke at least one of his fingers while holding his wife’s hand during delivery.
Their home is magnificent, with four levels of historic objects, costumes, pictures, paintings, and sea shells in an array of colors, of course. The house is illuminated by the history, memories, love, and life within its ancient walls. During the summer nights, my grandfather regularly cracks the windows so all that can be heard is the light crashes of the Atlantic waves, and the soft sigh of sleepy seagulls.
On the walls in the main hallway are the pictures from his World War II glory days. Every picture is framed in either gold or silver as my grandfather refers to his war pictures as “memories of silver and gold.” Further down the hallway is the piano that he plays so softly every afternoon at three o’ clock. On top of the piano is a picture of his beloved father holding him in December of 1926 when he was born. Next to it is a picture of them both on the streets of Boston in the midst of our country’s “Great Depression”. Every summer I get this opportunity; to view his past, and ponder what his experiences have been like. Once in awhile I’ll sprawl on the floor and beg, “Grandpa Jack! Tell me a story. The most exciting story you have in that head of yours.” And he will always tell me; “Katherine, you don’t want to know those stories. I’ve got some that are exciting, but none you’ll ever need to hear.”
It was curiosity that brought me to his attic last summer. At the very end of the hallway on the third floor is the white wooden door that opens to the attic. So one afternoon in late July, I opened the attic door, and peered up the steep steps into the musty light that’s calling me from above.
“Climb my steps. Climb my steps.” The attic summons.
I lift one leg and begin my ascent into a place so unknown and so enticing.
At the top of the staircase is a small landing, and then all that surrounds me is World History. To my left is a helmet perched on a pole, and to my right is a bureau where my grandfather’s old swim trunks are folded neatly. Directly in front of me is a grandeur bookcase filled with classics. And on the wall is my grandfather in Boston after the Second World War. He’s wearing his hard green hat with his arm around a very cute young boy that looks about my age. His hair is the color of the sand; light and colorful. And his eyes remind me of the ocean; so soft and captivating.
The green hat is inviting to me. I approach it slowly, lift it from its stand and place it atop my head. Maybe now I can see the story my grandfather will never tell.
The picture hanging from the wall lures me in. Suddenly, it captures me, and I’m in a wild and new place.
The gunshots could be heard for hours, ringing like small wind chimes through the chilly night. I knew somewhere out there in the distance, good men were giving their life’s for one reason or another. I knew why I was willing to give mine that is for damn sure. I’m here for the preservation of my freedom, peace of the world, and the pride of my parents. War is a silly idea, and fighting is nonsense. Hasn’t solved anything yet, won’t solve anything now. I don’t understand it being only eighteen, but I know I’m fighting for the end of Fascism and the beginning of peace and serenity.
Tonight was one of those rare nights off for the men of this American regiment. No guns to be fired, no men to kill. The soldiers and I took the time to ourselves, each of us going our separate ways, laying in the fields for some downtime. I lay out under the moonlight tonight to read my letters while the fighting was much too far off. The night sky was lucid. Shades of navy blues and bright shining stars was all there was to see. The war’s almost over, or so I’ve heard from a few of my pals back at home. But as for now, I’ve heard nothing but the cries of the wounded and the explosions and gunshots that this horrifying war has brought.
“Jack!” I heard from the distance. “Jack!” It continued.
“Yes?” I responded.
“Jack, they’re coming! Grab all you can, ammunition and all.” The voice sternly demanded.
Lanterns were glowing in the forest about a quarter mile away.
“THE GERMANS ARE COMING!” men screamed from all around me.
I grabbed my gun and headed for the line with my fellow soldiers. A gun blasted off adjacent to me. “Jimmy! For God’s sakes, what are you thinking?” I hollered in his ear. It was much too late. The men in the woods threw their lanterns towards us and fired off their guns in an instant, and right and left men were falling to their knees with a bullet to their chest. I loaded my gun rapidly and fired back towards the German line. A German soldier was charging at me with a painfully pointed tip on his weapon, screaming in German and staring me dead in the eye. I clutched my gun with my shaky fingertips, pointed it towards him and fired it off just as he was about to release his weapon into my right leg. The bullet struck him in his left eye and pierced his brain. I cringed and shut my eyes. I couldn’t bear to watch another man fall before me.
When the gun shots had stopped, Jimmy Thorne was by my side, just as he was the entire forty-five minutes of shooting; and like he had been since we both came over six months ago.
“I’m sorry.” Jimmy began, “I didn’t mean to pull the trigger.”
“It’s alright Jim.” I said, placing my hand on his shoulder.
It was just Jimmy and I that night surrounded by utter hell. The German soil was saturated in blood, and the grass was crimson. Men of all statures and distinguished backgrounds were lying all around me. Some had no arms or legs, others no head. After moments of searching, I found a minute portion of grass at the foot of the trees that was dry. I lay down on the cool earth with my gun firmly against my chest. I looked over across the field where Jimmy was walking. His right arm was bleeding profusely and I could see the blood trickling off his sleeve in the dim moonlight as he paced in-between our men looking for his seventeen year old twin brother, Nathan. Nathan was just a year younger than me, and I joked with him that I despised him for his good looks. All the girls back in Boston went crazy for his sandy blonde hair, charming wit, and baby blues. I couldn’t bear to have him getting all the finest women in town at his age.
Jimmy found Nathan a moment later I could tell. He knelt down beside his brother’s limp and motionless body. “Jack,” Jimmy called, “He’s gone.”
I said nothing back, but watched Jimmy wrap his wounded arm around Nathan’s waist and hold on tight. Jimmy whimpered and tears flooded his face. He stayed like that until sunrise.
The war ended that year, and Jimmy and I were headed back to Boston after eight traitorous months. So soon I’ll be back to swimming in the Atlantic and playing Bach’s classics on the living room piano.
If war wasn’t hell, then I don’t want to know what is. Men perished under God’s watchful eye. Those who made it out alive with a limb or two left are lucky b******* (I being one of them. Jimmy Thorne lost his left arm up to his elbow to an infection. I went along with him to the doctor when it was time to chop that baby off. He screamed and hollered all the curse words in the book without any remorse. But I can’t blame him.
I told Jimmy before he left for the great city of Boston, and I to the shores of Cape Cod to always remember me. We snapped a photo in the city when we arrived back. One day I’ll hang that photo in silver and gold, so I will never forget the friendship we’ve had.