From Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul

Grandpa’s Apple Pie

I can still see the images vividly, as if I were standing right there gazing at the pictures on Grandpa’s wall. Black-and-white photos, with heavy black frames and weighty images. The brave smiles on the faces of the men in Grandpa’s platoon could not hide the hardship of the war.

I knew by heart the stories that went with the pictures. Grandpa had a gift for description, and when we begged him to tell and retell his war stories, we could see, hear, even smell the front lines of battle.

Just as vivid in my mind are the weekend visits to Grandpa, when my sister and I would sit with him around his kitchen table. The three of us would share an apple pie after supper, savoring the sweet, smooth taste and Grandpa’s company. Even today, a taste of apple pie brings back memories of Grandpa and his war stories shared around that table. One story in particular I insisted he tell every time—the story of when he almost didn’t make it home.

Right at the end of the war, Grandpa was shot in the back, twice, and would have perished where he fell had it not been for two brave soldiers who carried him out of the line of fire, risking their lives to save him.

My curiosity about those two young soldiers was never quenched. “Who were they, Grandpa? What were they like?” I asked, even though I knew that when Grandpa told me about them, his eyes would fill and his voice waver.

“We ate together, slept together and fought together,” he would answer. “A good old apple pie.” Dave was a tough apple, strong in body and mind, protective, always making sure they looked out for each other. Ron was the filling, sweetening the mix with high spirits and jokes. And Grandpa, he was the crust, keeping them all together by reminding them, during the hard times, of the things that waited for them at home and the plans of things they would do together then. Their short interval of six months of service together had created the most secure of friendships— the kind of friendship that will lay down its life for another.

What I wouldn’t have done to meet the two friends who held my Grandpa’s heart and thoughts so securely!

And then, unbelievably, I had my chance. During one of my visits to Grandpa, when I was nine years old, I awakened early one morning and found Grandpa in the kitchen, sipping a cup of coffee. Two other coffee cups, almost empty, were near him at the table, but no one occupied the chairs.

“Why are there three cups here, Grandpa?” I asked.

“Well, you see,” Grandpa replied, “on Saturday mornings, my old buddies—my apple pie buddies—come over to drink coffee with me and talk about old Army stuff.”

“Really, Grandpa?” I was thrilled! “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Those two heroes who had trudged through the war with Grandpa amid hand grenades and gunfire had been sitting here, in this kitchen, while I was upstairs, oblivious.

“Can’t I meet them, Grandpa?” I begged. “Please?”

“All right,” Grandpa agreed. “But there’s one stipulation. You have to wake yourself up at 4 A.M. to meet them. That’s when they come, and I won’t do it for you.”

What a deal! Of course I would get up on my own! I’d stay up all night if I had to!

But I was only a child, after all, and as excited as I was the night before, as unsleepy as I felt, by the time 4 A.M. rolled by, I was dead to the world. Every weekend visit brought the same end: I raced down the stairs, knowing I was too late by the strength of the sun’s rays peeping through the kitchen window, to find only Grandpa and three empty cups of coffee.

I got no more chances after that year. The bullets that had been intended to take Grandpa’s life during the war eventually succeeded; cancer emerged from the sites where they were still lodged deep in his back. Grandpa died, and I never made it in time for the coffee. And I never met those two Army buddies.

I’m glad, in a way. Perhaps my nine-year-old mind wouldn’t have understood if I had made it down at 4 A.M. and seen Grandpa’s lone figure sipping from three cups of coffee, two laid out for young men who likely never even made it home from the war. It probably wouldn’t have made sense to me then.

But it makes perfect sense to me now, as much as it did to Grandpa. He was, as ever, the crust of that special apple pie, holding together a friendship that had never died and showing me the kind of love that lasts as long as memory and beyond.

Heather L. Shepherd

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