Today is Veteran’s Day and every Veteran’s Day I remember my grandfather. He was a very special kind of man – kind, loving, generous and very unlike the stereotypical staunch, hard and proud men of his generation. My grandpa had a kind word and goofy joke for everyone he met. I was told he was still telling funnies up until the day he passed away. My grandfather had 6 children and more than twice as many grandchildren yet he made each one of us feel special. He always seemed to have time to spend with each of us and never failed to shower all of us with hugs and kisses.
At just 5 feet, 4 inches tall, Grandpa was not large in stature but he was large in spirit, personality and loyalty. He signed up to join the army a few months after the bombing at Pearl Harbor when he was 21 years old. He actually didn’t meet the weight requirement to enlist but the man who weighed him pressed his foot down on the scale a bit so that it would appear he weighed more. His enlisted weight was 109 pounds.
My grandfather was stationed on Maui, the Philippines and Guadalcanal. He loved Hawaii and always wanted to return someday with my grandmother after the war. Unfortunately she passed away before they could ever make that trip together. I, however, was lucky enough to be able to take that journey with my grandpa in 2002 and it is one of the most memorable and best trips I’ve ever taken. I was 23 and he was 81. We went exactly 60 years after he was stationed in the islands.
I have strong memories from that trip that flash through my consciousness. As Grandpa and I drove up to Haleakala he told me about building the roads through Maui and being a jeep driver for his superiors during the war. Over drinks at a luau he reminisced about his Japanese girlfriend in Maui and how they had to keep it all a secret. As we drove the Hana Highway, he told me about the time his unit was attacked and most were shot but he only ended up with a dent in his helmet and a bad headache from a soldier using the butt of his gun to test whether he was alive (he didn’t flinch).
My strongest memory, however, is one that is burned into my mind forever. When we were visiting Pearl Harbor, we went to the book store to look for souvenirs. He picked up a book and was flipping through it when I saw his hands begin to tremble and his eyes well up with tears. I asked if he was ok and slowly he brought his gaze to mine, face washed white and shakily pointed to an old picture of a young man in uniform shimmying up a coconut palm in Guadalcanal. He said, “This could have been me.”
He went on to tell me how difficult that portion of his service was. He spent most days there in fear, but on good days his cohorts would coax him up to retrieve the coconuts that they would all enjoy together. I didn’t question him further as I could tell how uncomfortable he was but I got the sense that he felt a mix of emotions – fear, relief, nostalgia and even happiness that he was able to be there that day. I hugged him tightly, never wanting to let go.
Even at 80 years old, Grandpa had more energy than I did on that trip. He swam faster than me while we snorkeled, wanted to get as much packed into a day as possible when I was 2 feet from crashing and he never seemed to lose energy. Soon after that trip he became ill with a rare type of liver cancer that eventually caused us all to lose him. It was one of the saddest times of my life and my cheeks are moist as I type now.
I am so thankful to have had this man in my life and to honor his memory. He was the kindest man I’ve ever known and I would give anything to have another day with him. Every holiday at my grandparents’ house was magical. They held us all together and I felt safe. I wish I could spend another Thanksgiving with them listening to my grandpa tell silly jokes and hearing my grandmother chuckle, both of them happy to have a house full of family. Maybe that’s one reason I love Thanksgiving so much. It brings families together to share and care and show their love for each other.
If I was able to have another Thanksgiving with my grandpa, I would want to make this recipe for him. I love these tiny, yet hearty apples from Melissa’s Produce. Together with fennel and prosciutto, this dish has just the right mix of sweet and savory and, just like him, they pack a large amount of spunk in a petite package.
Roasted Crimson Gold Apples with Fennel & Prosciutto
Servings: 4 • Size: ¾ cup • Weight Watcher Points+: 3
Calories: 125 • Fat: 5g • Carbs: 20g • Fiber: 5g • Protein: 4g
Sugars: 12g • Sodium: 351mg • Cholesterol: 0mg
- 12 Crimson Gold apples, cored and halved
- 1 small fennel bulb, cored and sliced
- 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- ¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- Chopped parsley for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl and toss to coat. Bake 15 minutes, tossing once halfway through cooking. Transfer to a serving bowl/platter and garnish with the chopped parsley.