Books, knickknacks and memorabilia crowded Grandpa’s cellar. Old newspapers and magazines stacked waist high. My father and I worked in the thick of it. We’d come from Grandpa’s funeral that morning, as good a time as any, we thought, to sort through his things.
I’d hoped the job would make me feel close to him. But instead Grandpa had never felt so far away. Dad sifted through a pile of papers. I couldn’t focus. “Is everything all right, David?” Dad asked.
“I guess it’s just hitting me that we’ll never see him again.”
Dad didn’t respond. He was staring down at something he’d come across. Whatever it was seemed to have swept him away. “Dad?”
He looked up at me. “Make no mistake, David,” he said. “We’re close to the people we love even when they seem like they’re far away.”
Dad handed me the object that had grabbed his imagination: a dusty, yellowed Burpee Seed calendar from 1943. “Why do you think Grandpa saved this?” I asked, turning over the delicate old calendar in my hand.
It opened to the month of February. The sixth was circled and noted with Grandpa’s penciled script. “Can you make out what it says?” I asked Dad. He took the calendar from me.
“First I’ve got a story for you.” Dad moved some books aside and sat down in Grandpa’s old rocking chair. “During WWII, I fought with the 1st Division, 16th Infantry Regiment as a platoon commander, all the way from the initial landing in North Africa to Omaha Beach.”
I pulled up a stool, not sure where Dad’s story was going. His words came out slow and soft, as if in his mind he was somewhere else. Maybe back in the deserts of North Africa.
“It was February sixth,” he said, tapping the date on the calendar in his lap. “I was leading my men on a night march, positioning for a dawn attack. I had a bad bout of malaria. Hard to avoid in those conditions—hot, humid, mosquitoes everywhere.
“I was freezing and sweating. Teeth chattering. Stomach cramps. I wanted to crawl into a hole and sleep. But if I stopped marching, my men would stop too. We would be caught in the open by dawn’s light. I could not quit. I forced myself forward one step at a time.”
I leaned in on my stool. Dad had talked about the war before, but never like this. I could imagine him pushing across that desert, his hope at a low point. Something happened that day, I thought, glancing at the calendar. But what?
“I repeated the Lord’s Prayer till the mumbled words became a steady hum.” Dad looked me square in the eye. “I must have fallen asleep from exhaustion,” he said. “Because the next thing I knew, I was back home, here in this house. Grandpa sat across from me. In this rocking chair.
‘Remember what you learned in the Boy Scouts and on the football field,’ Grandpa said. ‘You can’t quit.’”
“I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t think I could. I was scared. Your grandpa patted my knee. ‘I believe in you,’ he said. ‘And I’m out there with you in spirit. Just promise you won’t lose faith. Never stop believing you will make it home alive.’”
I could picture Grandpa, giving Dad the courage he needed. Dad painted such an image, it was almost as if I were dreaming myself.
Dad continued. “When I came to, I had the strength and the will I needed to complete the mission. I got my men into position before dawn.”
He rocked forward and handed me the calendar. “After the war was over,” Dad said, “I told Grandpa all about my dream. Your grandpa just about made my jaw drop when he told me I had appeared to him one night when he was dozing in his chair.
“Grandma had gone to bed, he said, and I came and stood by the stove and we talked. He said I had asked him for help and he encouraged me. When Grandpa woke up, it struck him as so odd, he marked it down on the calendar.”
Dad pointed to February 6. “The same night I was sick with malaria, leading my troops. The same night I had my dream.”
I held the calendar up close and squinted at Grandpa’s lightly penciled script. I could just barely make out, “David dropped by today.”
“Grandpa was with me in spirit back then,” Dad said. “I believe he’s here with us now.”
Dad was right. Heaven was as close as the calendar in my hand.
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