Department of English

Fall 2005 Edition

Grandpa's Bullet

Kerstin Bolton
Expressive 1010 1st Place

I can remember the alarm clock going off at 6:00 a.m. and the headache I had from crying so long the night before.  The instant I woke up, the tears started again, and every part of my body ached from sadness.  I was getting ready to attend a funeral that afternoon.  Not just any funeral, but the funeral of one of the greatest men I knew, my grandfather, my hero.  The viewing the night before gave me just a hint of how hard Grandpa’s funeral was going to be.  It felt so final; today was the end of one of the best chapters in my life.  In just one afternoon it was impossible to pay tribute to such an incredible man who had shaped and cared for me for 27 years.  Little did I know, I would be given something special that day which would be a sweet reminder of my Grandpa and would deeply touch my heart.  

The morning dragged on forever, even though there were so many things to do in preparation for Grandpa’s funeral services.   I remember walking around my grandma’s house, laughing with my sister one minute and then crying with my mom the next.  My emotions were in such an upheaval that I could not make sense of anything.  I could hear when others in the house were talking to me, but I had to focus in on their faces in order to comprehend the words.  At one point I found myself in Grandpa’s closet hugging his clothes and sobbing.  The sobs came so hard and so quick that I could not catch my breath.  The scent of Grandpa’s clothes took me back to when I was a little girl.  My head spun with memories as I recalled always wanting to be with my Grandpa.  Grandma would often pick me up from elementary school when my mom was at work.  I would immediately run to Grandpa’s workshop to give him a hug and tell him about my day at school.  Grandpa would listen intently to what I had to say no matter how busy he was with his work.  His attention and love always told me that I was important to him.  I do not know when my head stopped spinning, but the reality of the day hit me hard again as I pulled my black dress from the closet.  It was time to get dressed for my hero’s funeral. 

The time arrived for my husband and me to leave.  As my husband, Dave, led me out of the house by my hand, the hot July sun blinded me.  The inside of the car must have been 120 degrees, but it was like a warm blanket comforting me and giving me strength to face what was coming next.  I was so glad to have Dave by my side.  I needed his strength to help me through the day.  Dave and I arrived at the church early for our private family prayer.  As we walked into the room where my Grandpa was, I could feel my throat quickly close off and the hot tears instantly well up in my eyes again.  I knew as I stared at my Grandpa resting so peacefully that this would be the last time I would ever be able to see him.  Even though I knew his spirit was no longer with him, I was not ready for that reality. During our family prayer I could hear the sobs of my family in the close distance. What I heard most though was the selfish pleading in my mind, “No, please Grandpa, don’t leave me.  I’m not ready to say good-bye.”  Then somewhere in the middle of my thoughts, I heard my husband in a shaky, quivering voice say “Amen.”  That was it; just like that, in a split second, it was time to say my final good-bye to Grandpa.  My body was shaking uncontrollably as the funeral director closed the lid to his casket, never to be opened again. 

Once again memories flooded my mind like a tidal wave that would not break.  I felt my heart physically ache as I realized that I would no longer be able to sit in Grandpa’s boat with him at Kolob Reservoir and fish as we talked for hours.  I cried as I remembered the joy in my Grandpa’s eyes when he taught me how to water ski.  There were so many untouchable gifts with which he had blessed my life.  Through the tears I smiled slightly inside for just a moment knowing that the night before I had given Grandpa a gift.  I wrote a poem for him that I would read during his services, but I wanted him to be able to take a copy of it with him.  I do not know why I felt impelled to leave a copy of the poem in his casket; I suppose it was just one last special moment between a granddaughter and her hero.

As we walked behind Grandpa’s casket draped with the American flag to the chapel, I was overwhelmed by the vast number of people who filled every pew to pay respects to him.  I remember walking to the front of the chapel, feeling hands gently taking mine as I slowly passed by the pews as if the unknown faces were telling me in their own way that they understood how I was feeling.  It was not until all six of the grandchildren stood to sing “I Am a Child of God” that I was able to put faces on those who had helped usher me to the front of the room.  I felt peace as the six of us grandchildren stood arm-in-arm singing for our Grandpa.  When I stood to recite the poem I had written for my hero, I silently prayed that these simple words would somehow be enough to pay tribute to the man who had loved and cared for me unconditionally.  My hands and voice were shaking as I tried to read.  When I looked up I could almost see Grandpa at the back of the chapel smiling at me as if to tell me that I could get through this.  I only wish this comfort had lasted through the rest of the services.

After the funeral services, my Grandpa’s family and friends went to the cemetery for the graveside services.  Once again, my husband was a pillar of strength.  As he drove me to the cemetery, no words were spoken, but through the pain of my loss, I could feel Dave’s hand firmly but gently holding mine.  Slowly stepping out of the car I again felt the piercing pain of the hot July sun beat down on my tear-stained face.  The smell of the fresh-cut lawn in the heat nauseated me.  I felt things begin to whirl around me as I watched the pallbearers pull my Grandpa’s casket from the hearse.  My family and I gathered under the tent as my Grandpa’s grave was surrounded by the flowers from his services filling the air with a bitter-sweet fragrance.  

As the graveside services began, I had no idea the magnitude of the meaning of the American flag carefully draped over Grandpa’s casket.  My Grandpa fought in both World War II and the Korean War.  He was buried with full military honors which were presented by the American Legion Post 90.  My heart wept inside as I saw the full military dressed gentlemen of Post 90 march forward and salute my Grandpa’s casket.  Silence filled the air as they paid their respects to my Grandpa for his service to our country.  My body trembled as a soldier from Post 90 stepped forward and played “Taps” on his bugle.  It was almost as if the song from the bugle was carrying my sorrow through the air.  Not having ever witnessed a military funeral, the thing that happened next not only took my breath away, but also cut through me like a knife.  The seven soldiers stepped forward, raised their guns, and simultaneously fired them in the air.  Bang!  Then again, Bang!  And again, Bang!  Each shot fired pierced right through to my soul.  I sobbed uncontrollably, losing my breath and strength with each tear.  My eyes burned as I watched the soldiers surround Grandpa’s casket.  Their white-gloved hands lifted the flag and folded it with perfect precision.  In absolute silence, a single soldier then stepped toward my grandma, saluted her, and gently placed the flag into her trembling hands.  My heart broke as I heard Grandma barely whisper “Thank you” as she tenderly stroked the white stars on the flag.  Never in my life have I ever felt so much sorrow and pride welled together into one emotion.  Later that day, after the services were over and each family member found comfort and solitude in their own way, I was given the most wonderful gift.  My grandma lovingly gathered all of the grandchildren around the kitchen table.  She handed each of us two shells from the bullets that were fired in the 21-gun salute during Grandpa’s services.  I sat there in silence and held those two symbols of Grandpa’s service to our country tightly in my hand with an echo from each set of shots fired ringing in my ears.  The empty shell cases might be insignificant to someone looking from the outside in, but to me they became a gentle reminder of the love my Grandpa had for his country and for his family.  I am ashamed to say that I never even had a glimpse of what his service to our country meant while he was alive.  I carried one of those empty brass cases in my wallet for well over four years.  Each time I reached into my wallet, it would bring me back to a different memory from my childhood.  The most important memory I had was that of a very special and unbreakable bond between a granddaughter and her hero.