I remember screaming loudly in angry disbelief from the swing on the playground,
“Hey! That’s our lunch!”
I also recall nearly twisting myself from the swing in mid-air as I turned in childlike desperation to find my Papa (my Dad’s Dad) behind me, not seeming to give two shits that a bum was stealing the picnic lunch that took the entire morning for me to assemble to perfection.
“Papa…that man is taking our lunch from the table! Look, Papa, Look!”
My grandfather continued to push me higher on the swing, in spite of my exclamations; he never even looked over in the direction of the table (or our lunch) that I noticed, he just kept pushing as I sailed forward and up again on the swing. He had this way about him, though; an almost unsettling calmness woven tightly into his characteristic traits. Nothing seemed to ever really upset him; he was always chillax in comparison to anybody else I’ve ever known, to date; and, during childhood his patience often left me baffled beyond my inexperienced and young mind’s reconciliation.
It didn’t take long for me, being the tiny spitfire that I was, to eject myself from the swing on the up-swing (a stunt that my Papa disliked with absolution) and land approximately ten feet away in the redwood tanbark. I remember that I felt shocked that our lunch was being stolen and he planned to do nothing about it; it was in violation of my strict pre-school schedule.
“If you aren’t gonna stop him, I will!”
I “huffed and puffed” while I brushed myself off and began to head in the direction of the man’s quickly fading figure amidst the trees across the field of the park. Looking back, it always makes me smile to think about my Papa during my youngest days alive; he was such a wise and magical soul in every way. He never used to stop us from fucking up; on the contrary, he always allowed us to learn things the hard way, and for ourselves.
But on this day, he didn’t let me chase down the lunch-thief however; he stopped me in my tracks by simply observing out loud,
“Don’t you kinda feel like if that man stole our picnic like that, that he probably needs it more than we do?”
I recall this question literally making me feel weak for a second’s time; I stood still there in the sunny field alongside of my Papa’s short framed shadow and I swallowed what he said…I was instantly ashamed of myself for starting to chase after him; for reacting like I had…this moment changed me forever. My papa spent the rest of that afternoon explaining to me how this man had come to be homeless and dirty, angry and unstable:
He had been in the Vietnam War with my Dad and uncles; he had some bad times while he was there, and hadn’t found life any easier when he got back, afterward…
I never let go of what his patience meant to teach me that day about that man stealing our lunch; it created a soft-spot in my heart for Combat Veterans who have all but blinked out completely against a cruel and misunderstanding society they once called “home”. If there was one thing that my Papa drove deep into my being when I was young, it was HUMANITY in its rawest forms. I am ever-grateful to have had him, and still miss him to no end all the time, every day.