I was standing in the kitchen by the sink looking at my feet. My father was sitting at the table across the room, at that point definitely getting frustrated, because for the previous half-hour (at least) I had been attempting to swallow an aspirin for the first time. It was going terribly. I could not, for the life of me, understand how to do it – and at that point, we were in a stalemate, running out of useable aspirin, and patience. Dad could not comprehend why this was a difficult thing for me and neither could I. It seemed simple enough, but every time I tried, the pill would not leave my mouth. I couldn’t do it.
“You’re gonna have to chew it then, Lis.”
What? The idea hadn’t even occurred to me that this was possible. These weren’t chewable. I balked at the idea. Nope. That’s not happening. He tried to persuade me but I wasn’t buying it, so he pulled out the big guns.
“I’ll call Dud. He’ll tell you,” he said as he got up and picked up the phone and started to dial.
I’m going through more letters today. I had to look up the location he wrote in the heading. The Caroline Islands. 1945. He was writing home to his Dad:
I am glad that I can tell you that I am now Pharmacist’s mate 2/c. I should have got it last January and it’s been quite a while but finally, it came. It means approximately $22. more + more responsibility. In about three or four weeks I will be the only Ph.M. on the ship. I will be responsible for the whole ship + crew. It is a big jump from anything I’ve ever done but I can do it.
This man was medically responsible for an entire ship of men that were waiting to return to the US after being in Iwo Jima. Now, years later, his son was calling him up and asking if he could reassure his granddaughter that it was ok to chew up an aspirin.
I can’t remember if I held the phone that day and talked to Dud myself, or if my Dad just talked to him and repeated it back to me, but I agreed to chew the pill (yay Dud), and it was terrible, but whatever pain I had (probably from braces?) definitely went away, and I tried to avoid ever taking a pill again.
My grandfather only spoke about his military service once that I can remember – and that was only when my Dad was reading a book he found about Dud’s ship. He was silent on most of the matter, but by reading these letters, I’m seeing a whole other part of a man I already loved so much – and I only love him more for his humbleness, his grace, his love for his family throughout all of his years.
Later on, I’ve connected the dots and have figured out the reason why I couldn’t swallow pills was because of my orthodontic problems (the irony if this was braces-pain related) and that my tongue used to push up against my teeth instead of the roof of my mouth (called reverse swallowing) and it actually makes it really hard to swallow pills. Unfortunately, without the internet that can spit out the reasons why his child wasn’t functioning correctly in .12323 seconds, my Dad had to work with what he knew, and that was a Dad that knew medicine that couldn’t be argued with and so there we were.
The last time Dud ever mentioned anything about his work was years later as we walked into the hospital together once when Nana was sick and I had long been successfully taking aspirin without chewing it. A man carrying a black leather briefcase walked in through the doors before us. Dud stopped and pointed to him and then turned to me, balancing on his cane.
“You see him? That’s what I used to do,” he said, and his smile rested in the wrinkles around his blue eyes, and we walked in together to go see his wife of over fifty years.
I regret not asking him more question that day and on so many others. I wish I had been brave enough to start the conversation, but for now, thanks to him saving these letters and bringing up memories, it feels like I’ve been talking to him for hours.