Grandpa retired from the US Navy. Then he retired from the Michigan State Police. But that doesn't mean he's done retiring. Grandpa also works for something called the Naval Reserve. He doesn't do much...unless a sailor dies. When a veteran dies and the family wants a military funeral, Grandpa is assigned to help coordinate the details of all Navy funerals in the state of Michigan.
That means Grandpa knows a lot about cemeteries and who is buried in them.
I woke up in Grandpa's house to the smell of eggs and bacon. I got out of bed, got dressed, and made my morning trip to the bathroom. After washing up I followed the smell of breakfast to the kitchen. My plate was all ready. I looked down at my breakfast as it looked up at me. Grandpa had used the bacon and eggs to create a face on my plate.
"Don't just look at each other," Grandpa said. "One of you had better eat the other so we can head to Pontiac."
"Pontiac?" I said as I plucked the smile off my breakfast plate.
"We got to earn our breakfast...and pay respects to a Navy man."
"I'm going to a funeral?" I asked.
"Nosireebob," replied Grandpa. "We're running logistics at the cemetery. Young Al Boyce is handling the funeral arrangements."
"Cemetery?" I said.
"No climbing on the headstones like you did when you were four," said Grandpa, remembering.
"I don't remember," I confessed.
"After I'm dead you can read my diary. June 19, 1974. Grandson plays hop scotch over headstones...Causes mourning relatives to swap tears for laughter."
"I still don't remember," I said.
"Well..." said Grandpa. "If you do anything today to make anybody laugh or cry, write it down in your diary so you too will remember everything that counts in this world."
"Journal!" I said. "Not diary...journal!"
"Whatever," he replied as he watched me make the face on the plate disappear.
It was a little over an hour drive to Pontiac, Michigan. In case you don't know, Pontiac was not named after a car. Remember...here in Michigan we only name baby girls after cars. Pontiac was actually named after a famous Indian chief. Chief Pontiac was a Cherokee leader who helped keep the Cherokee tribes together. I have heard Grandpa say that in war and most everything else, there is strength in numbers. I'll bet Chief Pontiac believed that too.
Grandpa was all dressed up in his best Naval uniform. It made him look strong. It made him look young. When we arrived Grandpa checked in with the Cemetery management. The hole had been dug to Naval and State of Michigan regulations. He made a phone call and was assured that something called the Color Guard was on route. Other sailors in their best Naval uniforms arrived. Grandpa inspected their rifles and supplied each with one blank round of ammunition.
A blank round means that there is no 'projectile'. But it still makes a lot of noise. After a Navy Chaplain read from the Bible, mentioned the sailor's name almost as much as he said Jesus' name, after a folded American flag was handed to a woman holding back tears...the rifles were fired.
Birds scattered from the surrounding trees at the sound of the guns. The woman with the flag watched as the birds circled the small group of mourners and then flew away.
Family and friends shook Grandpa's hand as the ceremony ended. He nodded stone-faced to each of them as they passed. Slowly the gathering of friends, relatives, and well-dressed sailors headed for their cars. I walked around from headstone to headstone. I fought the urge to hop over them. When I could, I read the names on stones and tried to imagine who they were. Some had lived for a long time. I wondered if they had kept a diary...a journal for their family to read about the little things that happened between the two dates carved in stone.
Then I came across a name I thought I recognized...Terry Sawchuck. Wasn't he a Detroit Red Wing? A goalie I think.
"Did the old Uke call you over to tell you a story?" Grandpa said as he had creeped up from behind me.
"Uke?" I asked.
"He was Ukranian...we called him Uke."
"Lots of people called Terry Sawchuck, Uke," explained Grandpa.
"Who is Terry Sawchuck?....Uke?" I asked.
"Good question...he's the reason I brought you here."
"I thought you brought me here because it's your last day of babysitting."
"I was never a very good babysitter," Grandpa admitted. "I almost left you home, but I brought you here...to introduce you."
"To Terry Sawchuck?" I asked. "Why do I feel I know him?"
Grandpa hesitated. His glass eye looked at us, me and Uke. That glass eye saw more than a cold stone and a curious boy. "I want you to meet..."
"Are you talking to me or the stone?" I asked.
Grandpa swallowed and cleared his throat. He pointed to the name carved in the stone. "You know that name...it's also carved into the Stanley Cup."
Now I was impressed. I put my hand on the stone and said, "It's an honor to meet you, Mr. Sawchuck."
Grandpa smiled. "Hear that?"
"Hear what?" I asked.
"The Uke here wants you to know...the honor is all his."