1) The heirlooms I have from my Granny and Grampa Dimmick include the secretary that was in their living room and three or four books. But the books* include Grampa’s copy of The Complete Poems of Robert Service, as well as another volume of poetry (that was, I gather, left behind by the previous owners when Granny and Grampa moved into 1911 Orchid in 1964), The Best Loved Poems of the American People. And since the latter contains the most famous American war poem of World War I, “In Flanders Field,” and since the former has my grampa’s favorite poem of all time, “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” I had my personal observance of the holiday rereading those during my devotional.
1a) I always forget that Service did not write “In Flanders Field!” It’s really by an American poet, John McCrae, who died in January, 1918.
2) Grampa was a traditional American success story who came up from nuthin’ after being orphaned at the age of five; his parents died within three days of each other of typhoid fever. Fast forward a few years through more adventures, and Grampa lied about his age to get into the Army. He was stationed in the Philippines in some frontier outpost, which was probably pretty awful. The story goes that there was some sort of Army athletic contest going on in Manila, and the pole vaulter from Grampa’s regiment had been taken ill and couldn’t compete. Grampa was the first to respond when the call came at reveille for a substitute, and off he went to Manila. There he made a complete fool of himself when it became obvious he didn’t know a damn thing about pole vaulting. But he sure knew how to get out of the frontier!
2a) Later, when America entered World War I, Grampa was commissioned a second lieutenant (Granny said that was “the lowest officer you could be and still be an officer”) and shipped off to France. On his very first day in France, as soon as Grampa walked into the officers’ mess a sergeant called out across the room “HEY! Aren’t you that pole vaulter from Manila?!”
3) This story, and a few others, came to my ears one sunny afternoon when I was maybe eight years old or so, and Grampa’s cousin Irene and her husband Pap were visiting from Opelousas. I remember sitting low to the floor in one of the living room windows listening to the four of them laughing and telling Grampa’s history. Granny kept telling me to go out and play, but I wanted to listen! She coudn’t budge me from the room, and even though I don’t remember it all, it’s a happy memory.
*Of the 18 grandchildren, I am very much The One That Reads.