My grandfather is a quiet man.

He’s not in-your-face, he’s not gregarious. He doesn’t go out of his way to make his presence known in a room; he lets others be noticed while he stands back and watches, hands in pockets or arms folded. He’s thoughtful, wise, generous. I’ve never known anyone else so pure of heart, and I know I never will.

He and my grandmother have been married more than 71 years and to me, their love story is epic. Not for intense drama, or ups and downs — but for its consistency, its sweetness, the sheer devotion they so clearly feel to one another, even after all this time. It’s what I’ve always wanted for myself and the Big Bean; it’s the thing we’ve strived for – the ideal end to all of our crazy, often misguided means.

When I was growing up, I spent a good part of every summer with my grandparents at their home in Small Town, Tennessee – the same home they first moved into just a few years after their marriage in 1938. I slept in the same bed, in the same room, that was my father’s while he was growing up. But my father wasn’t there with me. No one was there but me and my Grandma and Grandpa.

It was precious alone time with them that my sister and younger cousins never got; time I wouldn’t trade for the world. It was during those summers that my grandparents instilled in me an appreciation for the simple things – fresh strawberries, vanilla ice cream, ice-cold Coca-Cola from a glass bottle. Love, honor, trust. FAMILY.

The lessons I learned during those Small Town summers remain with me now, 30-plus years later, and they continue to serve me well in my life. I’m more grateful for those lessons, from those people, than just about anything in this world. I learned not from their words, but from their actions. I still do.

My grandfather’s always stood out as a shining beacon of charity, sincerity, faith and devotion. His love for his family, his community, and his country have always been evident in everything he’s ever done.

I could go into his life story here, I guess. I could tell you about how he lost two years of grade school due to the yellow fever, or how he had to drop out of high school to support his family after his own father contracted tuberculosis. I suppose, since it’s Veterans’ Day, and this is supposed to be a Veterans’ Day post, I could tell you about his time spent in the South Pacific during World War II, the work he did, the medals he earned.

Or I could tell you about how he returned home after the war to work as a mechanic (and eventually, business owner) and grow three kids into smart, caring, successful, remarkable people – people who’ve gone on to raise their own amazing families.

I could tell you about how he and Grandma spent their retirement years in their R.V., constantly on the road, seeing sights, visiting loved ones, and sliding pin after pin after pin into their map to mark the places they’d been. I could give you a list a mile long of co-workers, friends, family, who would share story after story of Grandpa offering them help, or a kind word, or even just a chuckle, whenever it was needed.

But I’d rather tell you about the little things. Like how he used to sneak me caramels when Grandma wasn’t looking. Or how he’d sit me on his lap in his big Lazy-Boy chair stationed just in front of the TV, and threaten to tickle me while Grandma sat in her own chair, cross-stitching and watching and laughing along.

I’d rather tell you about the days I spent at the lakehouse, swimming by the dock or steering the blue-and-white boat from Grandpa’s lap while he kept a watchful eye just behind me. I’d rather tell you about how he’d always throw the fish back in after I insisted it was “mean” to kill them — even the really big ones. Or how he still calls me “Li’l Bit” to this day, and starts every one of our conversations with, “How’s my freckles?”

I’d rather tell you about how beautiful it is to watch him care with such grace for my grandmother now, as age takes its toll. Or how I’ve never heard him utter a single negative word about anyone, ever. Or how he’s never preached to me, never told me what to do, just offered me guidance when I’ve asked for it and trusted me to do what was right.

I’d rather tell you about how special he’s always made me feel, how totally loved and accepted and SAFE I always feel whenever I’m around him.

Because those are the things that really, really count. Those things are Grandpa, to me.

On this Veteran’s Day, my grandfather will serve as the Grand Marshall of his Small Town’s Veterans’ Day parade. He was chosen for this honor not just because of his proud service to his country in a time of war, not just because of the sacrifices he made in that service — but because of the incredible man he is and always has been.

He was chosen because of the extraordinary son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, mentor, guide and FRIEND he has been to so many of us over his 95 years. He was chosen for everything he has given, to all of us, without ever expecting anything, from anyone, in return.

Today, I am so grateful. Grateful for the service of both of my grandfathers, my father, my husband, and countless other men and women, of course… But more than that, today, I’m grateful for one very specific, one very special vet. I’m grateful for his life, his lessons, the millions of ways he’s touched me and so many others with his kind, gentle, generous nature.

I don’t guess there’s really anything else to say, except thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Grandpa. Words will never be enough to tell you how much I love you or how proud I am to be your granddaughter.

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