If it looks like we were scared to death,
Like a couple of kids just trying to save each other,
You should’ve seen it in color.
Dust littered the air and cloaked my hands as I sifted through the mountain of boxes in the attic trying to find the fall decorations my father desired. I’d already been attacked by three spiders and a sparrow hiding atop the old coat rack, so naturally I wasn’t taking much care in my search. After about an hour, I finally found the box haphazardly labeled “Halloween” and bent down to pick it up.
The wooden floorboards creaked while I walked back across the room. I was just about to the door when my foot wedged itself between an overly large plastic Santa Claus and an old, moth-eaten chair. Although I was able to catch myself on the arm of the chair as I fell, I managed to tip over a stack of shoeboxes and send papers flying everywhere.
Swearing under my breath, I sat the box of decorations back down. There was a small footstool to my left, so I sat down on it as I gathered up the bits of ancient letters and mementoes that my grandfather had sent to my dad when Granny Jean passed away last September, placing them back into the shoeboxes.
I moved as quickly as I could, throwing the clutter without paying much mind. But when I came across a small stack of tattered old photos, I grew curious. I pulled the rubber-band from around them and began flipping through. There were pictures of my mother and father on their wedding day, my father as a baby bouncing on Gran’s knee, a few of my great-aunt Muriel, but the one that had my curiosity spiking in dangerous amounts was a black and white photo of Granddad standing with another man.
Both were dressed in tidy black suits, and on the left sides of their chests each wore a small medal dangling from a deep-colored ribbon. Granddad looked similar to the way he appeared in his wedding photos, so I assumed that the picture would have been taken about the same time. I turned the picture over hoping for a description, but none was to be found. I sat the picture aside and finished picking up the rest of the mess. Once I was done, I gathered up the box of decorations again and placed the picture on top of it.
Dad was sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee when I brought the box down, sitting it by the door that led to the garage. I picked the picture up again and sat down next to Dad. After staring at it for a few moments, I turned to my father.
“Hey, Dad,” I said as I held the picture out to him, “what’s this picture from? I know that’s Granddad, but who is that with him?”
Dad took the picture and studied it. I could see his mind trailing back as he stared – his eyes unfocused and brow furrowed. At long last, the corners of his mouth lifted up into a small, crooked smile.
“That’s Dad and Jeff Davis right after they received their medals,” he said, handing the photo back to me.
“What’d they get medals for?”
Dad grinned again. “Your granddad and Jeff saved two fellow soldiers and their sergeant’s lives back in World War II. I don’t exactly know what happened – Dad doesn’t talk about it much.”
I looked at him in skepticism, one eyebrow raised up into my hair. “Why wouldn’t he talk about that?” I asked.
“‘Cause it’s not right to brag, and that’s how he sees talking about it. He just insists that they were paying their duty to their country by saving those three men. As he says, ‘There was nothin’ brave about it.’ Your granddad’s an old fashioned man, son. His view of the world is different.”
“Do you mind if I keep this?” I asked Dad, showing the picture again as I stood up from the table.
He shook his head, “Nah, you go ahead. I think Dad would want you to have it.”
I nodded, taking it in. I thought back to the stories that Granddad had told my sister and I about the war, and to how he when he talked, his soldier’s voice would come back to him. He’d get that respect and dignity back in his voice and lose the softness it usually held for those few minutes. How everyone in our small town always seemed slightly awed by him. I smiled a little, then, reflecting on the good man I got to call my grandfather.
Maybe one day I’d be half the man he was.