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Great-Grandpa’s Uniform

by Nicholas Froumis

“Must we go there, Mom?” Jack asked impatiently.

“Yeah, it’s so boring,” his younger brother Nathan added.

“You’re lucky to still have your great-grandfather in your life,” their mother snapped back. “Yes, he’s slowed down a bit, but you need to show him respect. He can tell you such stories—”

“All right! Jack interrupted. Can we bring our tablets at least?”

“No electronics,” their mother persisted. “You’ll have to entertain yourselves another way. Try actually listening for once.”

The boys were dreading the afternoon the entire ride over. Most visits to their great-grandfather’s house usually ended with him asleep on his recliner.

As the SUV pulled into the driveway, the visitors were welcomed by the previous week’s newspapers strewn across the porch. Their mother gathered them while the boys pounded on the door.

“My boys!” the elderly man greeted them and placed an arm around each of them. The strength of his embrace always surprised the boys, given his years and slightly hunched posture. “Hey, beautiful!” his piercing blue eyes flashed at his grand-daughter.

“You shouldn’t leave these out all week, Grandpa,” she lectured and dropped the pile of newspapers inside the house. “People might think you’re out of town and try to break in.”

“Oh, don’t you fret, Ginny. It’s a safe neighborhood. And this old fart can take care of himself.” He winked at Nathan.

The four sat around the kitchen table and discussed the minutia of elementary school until the old man made his way to his trusty recliner. Desperation washed over the boys’ faces. “Do you have something the boys can play with, Grandpa?” their mother asked instinctively.

“Yeah. There’s some marbles in that drawer. Have a go of it. You can use the basement.”

The boys grabbed the bag of marbles and raced downstairs. They had been afraid of the basement when they were younger. It had a musty smell, and the old piano in the corner emitted a haunting sound when the keys were pressed. Against the back wall, a placard with the word “Private” hung on a crooked door.

They emptied the bag of marbles on the floor and made a game of trying to hit the largest from several feet away. Nathan succeeded on his final attempt and they watched with mouths agape as the large marble slowly rolled underneath the uneven, closed door to the back room.

“What do you think is in there anyway?” Nathan asked his older brother.

“Only one way to find out,” Jack smirked.

“I’m not so sure...” Nathan cautioned, but his brother had already opened the door.

The dark room was barely larger than a closet. Jack felt along the wall for a switch. Soft yellow light from an old incandescent bulb illuminated the tiny room, and the boys found themselves staring at a glass case containing their great-grandfather’s WWII rifle.

“Cool!” Nathan whispered as he examined the old weapon and the neighboring shadow box containing a purple heart.

Their attention was suddenly drawn to the hanging uniform along the opposite wall. It seemed to emit a hum that grew louder as they came closer. Surprisingly, it didn’t smell musty like the rest of the basement, but rather, more like burnt charcoal.

“Let’s put it on!” Jack eagerly pulled the jacket from the wooden hanger.

“Maybe we shouldn’t,” Nathan hesitated.

“Don’t be such a baby!” Jack scolded. Nathan knew better than to argue. They gave a simultaneous nod and each slipped an arm into a sleeve.

The boys felt as if they were shot from a catapult, and then their momentum was instantly arrested. The tiny room was gone and the boys now found themselves standing in a strange countryside.

Propellered fighter planes raced through the sky. The shock of the new surroundings rendered the boys frozen in place as soldiers yelled and charged by without giving them the slightest glance.

Only after several soldiers had passed directly through boys did they realize that they were like invisible ghosts. Suddenly, two sprinting soldiers came to an abrupt stop in front of them. There was something familiar about one of them.

“Go on ahead, I think I can still save Pete.”

“You trying to get yourself killed?”

“I can take care of myself.” The soldier darted by the boys, but not before they caught the gleam from his brilliant blue eyes.

“Get it off!” Nathan and Jack yelled in unison as they threw down the sizzling jacket on the dusty floor of the small back room.

Hyperventilating, they raced upstairs. “Mom, you won’t believe what just happened!” Nathan squealed, face still pale.

“Look kids, you just woke up your great-grandfather!”

“Oh, don’t worry, Ginny. They’re just playing. Were you boys in the back room?”

“We’re sorry! Grampey, what happened to Pete?” Nathan implored.

“I thought my old stories were boring for you boys.”

“Please Grampey,” Jack echoed.

He spoke slowly, “When I got to Pete, he was badly wounded and we were still under fire. He asked me to leave him, but I refused. I carried him to safety, but not before taking a shot to the shoulder. Pete was sent back home to recover while I remained to finish my tour.”

“Did you ever see him again?” Jack questioned.

“Not for many years. We spoke on the phone occasionally.”

“Grandpa, are you talking about that war buddy you visited in the hospital a few years back?” Ginny suddenly remembered.

“Yes, dear. I’ll never forget how high Pete’s spirits were despite his illness. He was grateful for all the time he was able to share with his family over the years and he made me promise never to forget what I’d done for him during the war. I told him I would try but warned him that my memory was starting to fade.”

“But Grampey, why does the jacket...?” Nathan started as the boys now hung on his every word.

“I’m getting there, my boy. Shortly after I returned from my visit with Pete, I was bringing some boxes down to the basement when I heard a faint hum coming from the back room. That was the day that I discovered my uniform’s amazing secret. It also happened to be the day that Pete passed away. It was as if his war memories were imprinted on my uniform once he was gone.”

“Okay, you lost me, grandpa,” Ginny stated in a motherly tone.

“Do you think she’s ready to see it, boys?” the old man asked with raised eyebrows.

“Definitely,” Jack reassured and he raced downstairs with his brother to retrieve the uniform.

Ginny had no idea of the adventure that was approaching. She was too busy enjoying the way her boys now looked at their great-grandfather to notice the growing hum of the still-warm jacket being wrapped around her.

Copyright © 2016 by Nicholas Froumis

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