The prompt over at Sunday Scribblings is aging
“Well, we're all as old as we have ever been, and we're all at different stages of considering the aging process. What thoughts do you have on the subject?”
Again, more a prompt dedicated to those who journal.
I, however, twist.
Grandpa used to say he lost his ears over Korea.
He'd been a radio operator in a B-29 Superfortress, the aircraft made infamous at the end days of World War II for dropping the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On a bomb run over Weagan, North Korea, a close air support mission, his aircraft was riddled with shrapnel and in the ensuing decompression, both of gramps’ eardrums burst.
“It wasn’t so bad for me,” he said, “but it was really bad for Charlie O’Reilly, the navigator. He wasn’t buckled in and I watched him slowly get sucked out a hole the size of a milk jug, like sausage being squeezed into a casing.”
I liked grandpa’s war stories. I’d sit at the end of his bed while he told them, he in a pair of boxers smoking Camel no-filters and reading a book. He’d give me the books to read after he’d finished, and I’d have to shake out all the tobacco before I started.
Anyway, we’d sit – I’d draw aircraft of the era and he’s tell me of his days in the Strategic Air Command - before grandma - and winked when he got to the good parts about Asia and three-day passes.
Always on the bookshelf that made up his headboard – I never once questioned why he spent his time in the bed, just off his living room and in full view of anyone who walked in the front door while grandma had her own bed upstairs – was a shortwave radio. He’d fiddle with it, slowly working the dial with nicotine-stained fingers picking up news from the BBC, exotic voices (to me) chattering away in Chinese, Italian, Spanish.
On my 12th birthday, he got me my own shortwave radio, a smaller version of his own, lit with the world spread out flat, yellow waves running through it with all the time zones, starting at Greenwich Mean Time. In the darkness of my room in the basement, I’d slowly spin the dial, and pick up all the exotic dialects, the news from England, snippets of ship-bound traffic. Everything and anything.
I’d keep a list of interesting contacts in a composition journal, making neat entries in crisp architect lettering he made me practice (to this day, I can’t write cursive) by country of origin. When I arrived at grandma and grandpa’s house after junior high let out – mom picked me up at 5, when she got off work – we’d compare notes.
“Boy, it’s good you’ve picked up on the magic that is radio,” he said. “Madagascar? Are you sure, or are you just fooling with old gramps?”
I never lost my love for the shortwave, even through puberty, girls, high school, college, career.
By then, gramps had switched to Internet-based frequencies, and while my visits came less and less – jobs and family got in the way – we’d always talk shop. We talked radio. He still kept the huge shortwave on his headboard, and even when my aunts and uncles were drinking coffee and playing cribbage in the kitchen (maybe even sneaking a cold Pabst Blue-Ribbon on the porch when grandma wasn’t looking), he’s be in bed, working the dial like a safe-cracker. Finger-touch control; advancing across the dial smooth and deliberate.
Gramps believed in the power of radio waves.
He died in 2002, just as radio technology was getting smaller, more refined - hell, digital. Just before he died, he bought a pair of fancy, two-way radios, the kind with those new lithium batteries of long life. In his will, he requested that one be buried with him, the other left with grandma. He said he was determined to communicate from beyond the grave, and mom joked that if we didn’t do as he wished, he’d come back to haunt us all.
So in the breast pocket of his best suit, a black wool number, was the radio.
I was the one who made sure it went in his pocket powered up, set for scan, like he’d asked.
The other handset creeped grandma out and after the funeral, it was lost amongst the flowers, cards, cold fried chicken, and casseroles that neighbors dropped off.
That handset never left my memory, even as my own family grew, my hair went gray and the arc of my life continued on it’s path toward its end.
Grandma pasted recently, bringing together a clan that had spread across the country back to the house we lovingly called 416, the street number that was affixed the house in 6-inch, pounded iron numbers.
I was working my way through a second PBR tallboy – my uncles declared prohibition over at 416 – when I went digging though grandma’s ancient oak side table in the formal dining room.
In a drawer filled with gramps’ smokes, reading glasses and other detritus from his headboard (the room was redone into a TV room) was the second handset.
Eager, I boosted it and snuck into the sun porch and switched the handset on. Slowly, I flipped through the channels.
Then, faint through the static, I heard it.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “We’ll be together again. But only when it’s your time.”
The Tradition I Welcome by Keith Foskett
5 hours ago