Here's a little something different. My sister took this snapshot while we were at Grandpa's house today.
See, Grandpa has a pool table in the basement. I grew up in that basement. It's hard for me to even begin to tell you what it was like to have the opportunity to learn the game at his hands. My grandpa is one of the most competitive people you'd ever want to meet. He's 90 and he still plays like he's a kid. You'll receive no mercy at his hands. If you're playing him, you'll have to do everything you can inside the game to beat him. And it doesn't matter what the game is. He wiped the floor with me at Monopoly when I was five and showed absolutely no remorse as he took the last of my money. He never lets anyone win so when you beat him at something, you know you've done something.
I've been shooting pool since I was old enough to drag an old Coca-Cola crate around the table, stand on it and see over the edge of the table. Grandpa even built me a miniature table when I was that small so I could shoot on my own. We've spent countless hours down there around that table, sometimes with his friends, sometimes with family and sometimes just the two of us.
There's probably not a topic that hasn't been discussed over the sound of billiard balls smashing together...politics...religion...anything was fair game. Sometimes you could get him off his game by distracting him, but not often. Over the years Grandpa's practiced his game to near perfection and age hasn't touched his skills.
I have a lifetime of memories around that table. He's taught me lessons about fair play and competition, about family, about the history that my he lived. On one wall there are two large format black and white photos, what we'd call panoramic today, of the old coal mining crews that worked alongside Grandpa. In them you can find a younger image of him and his brother, of friends that have since passed and even of distant relations I never had the opportunity to meet.
On rare occasions, Grandpa puts up the map he was given after World War II that lays out the path his unit took through Europe and gives the dates of a few significant events. He's never been one to often speak about what he did in the war, but he's told me quite a few stories around that table. I've been told he's told me more than most people and I've tried to write some of them down. I need to make a serious effort to do that soon. I don't think I'll ever forget those tales, told in his own simple way. He's never embellished them, as best I can tell, and he always speaks quietly and humbly, almost as if he's reluctant to talk about it. Mom once told me she thought that Grandpa rarely talks about it because he thinks no one wants to hear about it.
I've heard every word he's ever told me about it. I wish he'd tell me more, but I'm not going to push him into stories he would rather not remember. I'll be content with what he has to tell me.
They're lessons and tales I won't soon forget.