This day on the calendar always marks the unofficial beginning of summer, a day off from work with cookouts and pool parties…
And I’m thankful for it. It feels good to eat grilled hot dogs in the shade of the back porch with the smell of Coppertone and bug spray, the slightest sunburn giving your face a glow, and a pup at your bare feet lazily watching the dirt dauber that woke him from his nap. But today while we did that, Saving Private Ryan was on the back porch TV playing quietly and holding us all captive.
I saw it in the theatre with my whole family in 1998, and my mama cried, seeing the horrors my grandfather experienced in WWII.
See that handsome man in the middle who could be my big brother’s twin? He was my grandfather, Ralph Clark, a construction worker and farmer’s son with a beautiful new wife waiting for him at home. He was on the minesweeper that received the first German gunfire on the beach at Normandy on D-Day. His map from that day has hung framed in my parents’ living room since I was a child, with all his markings and annotations, many of the French words a mystery to me. Until I saw Saving Private Ryan, I didn’t fully understand the sacrifice his generation made.
Today, I miss him most of all, but I’m thankful for anything that reminds me of him–the way he smelled like Old Spice aftershave and carried packs of Extra pink bubblegum in his pockets, to give to friends he would meet throughout the day. Of course, I didn’t know him as a soldier or war hero, only as my grandfather whose thunderous “Hey here, sugar!” greeting my husband can imitate from our stories, even though he never got to meet him… But the more I learned about his service in the war, the more I loved him because of it.
How lucky are we to be Americans?