Not Hitler’s War

Not Hitler's War

I might have been four or five
when Grand Pa Pa first came to visit.
It happened at a time stored mostly 
in my mind’s wobbly shadows.
I visit there often now to wander about.
He spoke no English; instead he
managed a language called Deutsch.
I vaguely remember sounds almost 
as foreign to me as my own.
He spoke from deep in his throat.
Mother said he came from a nice,
but faraway place called Germany. 
Unlike everyone else I knew,
He only had an arm and a half.
People really need both arms.
He had somehow lost his other half
arm in an earlier, “not Hitler’s war,”
as Mother put it. I guess we’d just 
won Hitler’s war, not Pa Pa’s war.
Pa Pa’s loss was obvious because his
shirt sleeve was pinned up at the elbow. 

A few weeks earlier, at a family
picnic, I had lost a shoe while 
playfully kicking stones into a river.
The shoe floated downstream 
and eventually sank into icy water 
while Mother chased after it.
In the end, I got a spanking for
losing the shoe and being a foolish boy.
I wondered a little if Grand-Pa Pa’s 
Mother had spanked him on the
day he came home from fighting in, 
not Hitler’s war, for losing half his arm.
Arms are worth more than shoes of course.
Grand Pa-Pa had mastered something 
with one hand I could not yet do with two— 
tie his shoelaces.
And when Mother served him his morning 
coffee in a cup and saucer, he quickly 
poured it into the saucer to cool.
I was just a boy then, with still much to learn
about geography, wars, men, losing stuff,

and drinking coffee. But I was delighted by 
Pa-Pa’s foreign sounds, his stump of an arm, 

his deft magic with shoelaces, and odd way 
of drinking coffee. Pa Pa didn’t stay long, 

leaving Mom and me, while we were both 

still young in life. I suppose he went off to 
learn more about America and why we 

had sent men to fight against him 
and his fellow countrymen,
in not Hitler’s war.
Photo by Brett Sayles on

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