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.