At a writing workshop called “The Tesseract,” I remembered that it was Grandpa George who gave me Madeleine L’Engle’s book, A Wrinkle in Time. I still own the hardcover copy inscribed with his bold scrawl and dated 1978; I was eight. He once advised me to inscribe my books on the inside cover, not the first page. It would be easy, he explained, for a book thief to tear out the first page, but no thief would decrease the value of a stolen book by damaging the front cover.
He grew up in poverty, one of many sons of immigrants, and through ROTC was educated and earned a law degree. He served in the second World War as a brigadier general, returned home, commanded a busy law practice, had a family, divorced, and many years later, he married my grandmother.
I only remember him mentioning his time in the war when he played “Pond Missions” with my brother and me. Grandpa George shoved the canoe out into his pond; we didn’t need to paddle until we were nearly half way across, and then we’d turn to face him, wait for his orders.
He rubbed thick fingers over his weekend stubble, gazed into his towering Hemlocks—this was years before they all died—and give heavy, serious thought to our itinerary. Then he called for us to “secure” cities, places we’d never heard of, but he assured us they were in Austria or Poland. We were to follow the Danube River, the “Blue Danube” he called it.
My brother and I paddled to the green algae edges; we watched frogs scoot below the surface, searched the murky water for the fish Grandpa George stocked every year. When we returned from our mission on the Blue Danube, we told Grandpa George about the people we met, the horses we rode, the mountains we climbed. He would listen at first, nod in agreement, but then his gaze and his attention moved beyond us, out to his deep brown pond.
But Grandpa George came back. He returned to his pond, his canoe, his hundreds of acres in upstate New York, his second wife, his law practice. He came back to his second chance grandchildren, staring wide eyed up at him, waiting for his orders for the next Pond Mission. From his pockets, he rationed pretzels and two cans of warm orange soda.
Heather Rutherford writes fiction, and very occasionally edits her work.