By Carissa Sitki
Every year, since 2017, my heart gets heavy around Veteran’s Day. There has always been a tinge of sadness for me– that I’m sure many of my fellow Americans feel too– when thinking of those brave people who have fought for our nation’s freedoms and are so often forgotten. But why did I become so sad after Veterans Day in 2017? What changed for me?
Well, you see, I haven’t had a living grandfather since 2009, when my dad’s dad passed away (my mom’s dad passed when I was only four). I always felt saddened when I would see people with their grandfathers, but there was a person in my life, who had always been there, who had been a grandfather-figure to me all along, my “Great-Uncle” Mike. Now we weren’t blood related, “Uncle” Mike and I, but he and his wife, Helen, had always been family.
They were the parents of my dad’s sister’s husband. Not sure what their actual titles would be, but we called them Mr. and Mrs. Metzger when we were young. It wasn’t until my high school years, sometime after the death of my own grandfather, that I started to form a strong relationship with “Uncle” Mike who I soon began calling “grandpa” after he gave my brother and I permission to do so—I will refer to him as “Grandpa Mike” for the remainder of this piece.
He worked at this little hippie gift shop, called Penny Lane, in his retirement and I would visit him in there. We really only socialized at family gatherings and when I would make that occasional stop at Penny Lane to look through the tie-dye shirts.
Anyway, it wasn’t until February of 2017, when his beloved wife passed away, that Grandpa Mike needed a little bit of help getting around (she was the one who drove). I began taking him to some of his doctor’s appointments, going to dinner with him on Fridays, and hanging out at his senior-living condo; we became the best of friends.
Oh how he loved riding around in my little green Volkswagen Beetle. He would text me every day, as he did with my brother, and his biological grandchildren; he had this hand-me-down iPhone 4 from his son and boy did he love using emojis.
Now, Grandpa Mike was a proud Veteran, serving in the United States Air Force as a Staff Sergeant during the Korean War. He loved this country so much.
His health took a sharp decline in November of 2017—only 9 months after we had become so close—and was hospitalized, just before Veteran’s Day. So on the day before Veteran’s Day, I headed home from college for a visit. On my way up to the hospital, I stopped by the store to pick up a Veteran’s Day card for my cherished surrogate-Grandfather. Walking through the card aisle at the store, I don’t see any cards for Veterans, so I asked the cashier. He said he didn’t know, but that he’d never seen a Veteran’s Day card before.
I found leftover cards for “Teacher’s Day” which is apparently in October, but no cards showing appreciation for our Veterans.
I go to several other stores, but found nothing. How sad is that? One cashier said, “Why don’t you check online? I don’t think we sell those.”
I checked online and found some printable cards, but how could stores not sell Veteran’s Day cards? It still baffles me.
I ended up making a homemade card for him and putting a picture of us inside of it. We ended up having a few more phone calls and video chats, but I came down sick and was unable to visit him again before he went to be with God.
His service was held at Camp Butler National Cemetery and I was an honorary pallbearer. He always called me a “neat kid.” I’m pretty sure he called all of his grandkids and nieces and nephews “neat,” but it sure did make me feel special.
Thank you for your service, Grandpa Mike, and all of the United States Veterans.