That time I knocked over a Vietnam Vet (pushing through an unexpected illness)
Grampa was a rolling stone!
Some days they’d make fun of funny-looking people, some days they’d laugh at each other.
There was this one time when Neboh’s grandpa came to visit him for a while. Unexpectedly in the process, Neboh ended up knocking down his poor Grampa, as he was called, out onto the hard sidewalk! Let’s take it back. So Grampa had recently found out he had a serious disease, a rare kind of Parkinson’s that was offset from his days fighting in Vietnam. Blame the agent orange. Anywho, the effects were starting to manifest in what would be a long journey against his illness. But … Grampa had another journey in mind.
Neboh and he had talked several times about going to Brazil, hitting the beaches, maybe catching a look at some sexy ladies. Well, Grampa’s balance wasn’t working too well, he had to use a walker at this point. Instead of Brazil then, one day he told Neboh;
“Hey, Neboh! Feel like walking with me up to the store?”
So, there they went. A teenage boy and his 60-something grandpa walking steadily (slowly) on a walker. If there’s one thing teenage boys hate, it’s doing things slowly. Besides it being hot as Southern California in the summertime — because it was Southern California in the summertime — and the grocery store being about a mile away up a steady incline, Neboh couldn’t figure out why Grampa wanted to walk all that way just to get a simple bite to eat. It might’ve just been a soda or something, Neboh can’t even remember. Well, off to the races they waddled.
Okay, they got their soda or whatever it was. Now comes the tricky part of going back downhill. At the time, Grampa was no small man, I mean, he had some size on him still. All that helping him up the inclination had made Neboh pretty worn out. Since the way back was mostly downward, he figured;
I practically pushed him up the whole hill. I think I deserve a little break.
On Grampa’s walker was a little flap seat and a handlebar. Neboh had the bright idea to sit on the bar while Grampa sat on the seat, and he would let the walker roll itself down the hill. Simple as that, right? Yeah. That went wrong real quick. They hadn’t rolled three seconds when Grampa started yelling:
“What are you doing?! Woah, woah, woaaaaa …” CRSSH!
It wasn’t quite like a car crash, but pretty close. The two had landed right in front of some random person’s driveway down onto the concrete. Grampa was rolling this way and Neboh rolled the other, both with their elbows scraped up. As his body rotated over the hard ground, Grampa began to wonder how safe of hands he was in after all, earnestly questioning his grandson’s dumb choices. And it just so happened that a truck was passing by at that very moment. The driver immediately stopped her car (like skrrt) and hopped out of the driver’s seat.
“What are you doing to him? Oh my God!”
The lady was freaked out, to say the least. All she saw was a man, apparently hard of walking, wrestling with a teenager on the floor. She wouldn’t be out of line to assume that Neboh was trying to assault his own grandpa. Despite this, she did help Grampa up and asked if he needed a ride or something nice, completely ignoring Neboh. He said he was fine, and so the lady carried on; Neboh carried off with Grampa. He learned not to ride on the handlebar of a walker ever again ;)
Context, please! So Grampa was a Vietnam vet, as you could tell. I always had great admiration for him, having grown up on the streets of ‘50s-’60s South Central L.A., fought in and survived a horrific war (against his own will), and later went on to become a successful businessman, father, and trend-setter. The man had style. Later we would go to visit him in Tampa Bay with his gorgeous lakeside house and his larger-than-life persona. The disease hit Grampa seemingly from nowhere, as life does for many of us.
The whole story above could foreshadow my and Grampa’s relationship later on. It forced him to move to Los Angeles, which made us a lot closer than we would have been had he stayed in Florida forever. And one man made our time together totally outrageous, Grampa’s caretaker. We’ll call him Mr. B.
Mr. B. had zero (0%) filter and Grampa knew it. I’d go to spend time with the two of them and leave just laughing my face off. Some days they’d make fun of funny-looking people, some days they’d laugh at each other. Some days they’d laugh at the fact Grampa couldn’t swallow his food so well, which would make him cackle even harder and erupt it all out in a fit of laughter onto his clothes. Then there would be jokes about who’d clean it and going to the bathroom and, “Now you’ll have to wipe your own ass, Grampy, I ain’t your momma!” I guess the point is that we made it fun, and there was almost no feeling sorry for him or each other or anyone. That happened in movie theaters, at the beach, at the mall. And all in his wheelchair too, I mean, this man got around more than I did with a fully functioning body at the time!
I was going through deep mental challenges and isolation in those days. Going to visit Grampa was such a cool distraction from that stuff, and it let me get out of my little world. Seeing who he had been and what he had to go through now made me so much more grateful for my health and strength, grateful I grew up in a time where the draft wasn’t enforced, grateful I had someone to look up to like that. My mom was super busy during those days too, and so going to the VA hospital to visit Grampa was a great way to spend time with her and other family members.
Ultimately, no one knows for sure what can happen to us or our loved ones in the future. That’s why all we can do is live up the moments we have while we have them. Grampa’s situation was a terrible one, but we made it an inspiring one through laughter and adventure and storytelling. It was never a dull moment, I assure you of that one. Being a veteran, in general, can be tough. There are all sorts of mental challenges and physical ones, and those guys and gals have gone through more than we can probably imagine. But it helps to focus on the bright side and think of the humor in situations. Asking, What is helpful about this phase I’m in right now? How can I learn from it? It certainly was a beacon for helping me through my comparably mild challenges.
Also, don’t be afraid to make jokes and have fun! Suffering is a part of life, but we’re here to enjoy ourselves. It isn’t over till it’s over, and I’ll always carry that lesson with me. Oh, and that thing about walker handlebars. I’m glad you could come and reminisce about that time …