In all of my earliest childhood memories, my grandfather (I called him Poppal) is there. And of course he'd tell me about the things I was too young to recall, how he'd prop me up in the corner of the couch cushions when I was just a baby, and I'd sit and coo and watch -- I'd hear this story more times than I can count, his smile gleaming brighter with each retelling.
He was a man tall in stature, big in heart, and everyone knew him. From yard sales to Sunday School to the Aldi checkout line, Art Maynard was your friend. He was more than the life of the party. He was the party.
He grew up the youngest of six children in West Virginia, where I'd end up vacationing for family reunions that I would never quite understand until more recent years. A promising future pulled him to Chicago and he and my grandmother would raise my mom, aunt, and uncle there, before moving to Portage.
I'm grateful to have lived just a few miles from my grandparents my whole life, in Portage and Valparaiso. He and my grandmother were there the night I brought my first son home from the hospital and, unlike many great-grandparents, received weekly visits and and had constant involvement in our lives -- every birthday, every holiday, and the "any old days" in between.
Naturally my four children have grown up loving Poppal as a great patriarch and he positioned each baby just so in the corner of the loveseat "just like I'd do to you," he'd laugh.
Two large tattoos -- an eagle with the American flag and a snake with a sword -- covered his forearms, noticeable traces from his time serving in Japan and Korea as a Sergeant in the United States Army. He always seemed to regret their permanence, a worry that he had set a bad example for us grandkids, but to me, they were a part of him. That ink held mysterious stories of the time before he was my Poppal, his fascinating secrets I never would come to know. Years later my own children would identify Poppal with his "taptoos," as they would call them, and I noticed he no longer seemed to be ashamed when they'd trace their tiny fingers on the faded eagle's wings. Instead, I sensed his honor and pride.
He loved anything and everything USA. For his 80th birthday this year, I bought a decorative American flag and pole for his yard. Despite a big party planned for that evening, I had him open it early that day. He worked on putting it together all morning and couldn't wait to put it outside, even though it was mid-February and freezing.
His birthday party was perfect. He was happy, loved, and surrounded by family. Later that night he suffered a massive stroke, and died a few days later.
He spent five years in the Army, but served a lifetime in patriotism to his country. For as long as I can remember I've associate red, white, and blue with both the United States and my grandfather. I'm certain the legacy he wanted to leave was his love for the Lord, but in very close second was his devotion and pride for his country.
Shortly before his sudden passing, my middle son Carter, 8 years old at the time, asked Poppal all sorts of questions about his service in the Army and about the Korean War and World War II. His dark brown eyes were like wide saucers as he listened to the fascinating tales -- some I had never even known or heard before.
A few weeks ago, Carter was quiet and determined with his pencil writing slow, neat cursive on wide ruled paper. I discovered after a few rough drafts that he was writing about Poppal for a fourth grade writing assignment at school. Please note that fourth-graders aren't usually big on fact checking, so some of the information isn't accurate, but I didn't have the heart to correct the elaborations in Carter's story. The piece (pictured) reads:
"My Great Grandfather
My Great Grandfather was born in 1931. At age 19 he set of(f) to World War 2. In great honor, he came back with other men at war that had survived. His name was Art. A few years later, he got married and started a family. After a few years went by, he had got children, grand children, and great grandchildren. But sadly, at age 80, he died on Feb. 13, two days after his birthday, Feb. 11."
At the burial, my grandmother was presented with the flag, folded 13 times in a reverent military protocol. A lone bugle called out Taps and I swear I could hear Poppal humming along, accepting the thanks of his country for his service, in great honor.
Stephanie Precourt is a freelance writer and mom to four in Valparaiso. She is a featured blogger on our "Your Family" website, and you can find her "Close to Home" blog at nwi.com/yourfamily. Stephanie also writes daily at her blog, adventuresinbabywearing.com.