|James G. Ewer|
Grandpa Jim was a navigator in the Army Air Corp, and was shot down over Germany sometime in 1944/5. He spent a few months in a concentration camp toward the end of the war. I can't tell you much more than that, because Grandpa Jim didn't talk about that time, except with his army buddies. Many Friday nights he would call our house, drunk as a skunk on his favorite scotch. "Is Jjjjjeannie there?" he would slur into the phone. He loved to talk with my mother--they were very fond of each other.
Grandpa Jim was my grandma's second husband. The first husband wasn't a good man at all, but Grandpa Jim was kind to my mother and adopted her as his own. He was a lousy husband by all accounts; the drank and the war had a lot to do with that. My grandma's third husband, Grandpa Robert, was the love of her life, but Jim was sweet in his ways.
One day when I was young, I was staying with Grandpa Jim's third ex-wife, who sometimes wasn't very nice. I had a habit, even then, of saying if I thought you weren't very nice, and Grandma Edie smacked me pretty hard for my trouble. Grandpa Jim was my hero. He scooped me up out of that house and took me somewhere else to stay a while. I loved him for that with all of my eight-year-old heart. On the way to San Francisco we drove through a long tunnel, and Grandpa Jim let me honk the horn all the way through.
When I was eleven my Grandpa Jim committed suicide. He borrowed his favorite car back from that third ex-wife, drank his favorite scotch, and then drove off a cliff while smoking his favorite cigarillo. He was missing for a few days before we knew what happened, and I was devastated.
In those days I was still living in fear of an uncle and nobody knew. But I had thought perhaps that my Grandpa Jim might help, or at least understand. It seemed to my young self that a man who had been imprisoned might know what it was to be trapped. But I never got the chance to talk to him about that.
Years later, as I worked with a therapist to heal from years of child sexual abuse, I found myself lost in flashbacks, easily triggered by a sound, a smell, a touch. I thought again of my Grandpa Jim. I thought about how he was a sweet, haunted man who got drunk every Friday with his army buddies and called his daughter to say I love you. I thought about the time he rescued me from a mean woman. And I think he would have understood the flashbacks and flinching, the fear of what isn't anymore. I think I could have told him how hard it is to reconcile the pieces of your soul that scatter when you've seen too much; he would have understood that. And then he would have offered me scotch. Sure wish he'd stuck around for that.
Today I lit a candle for my Grandpa Jim.