This is my grandfather holding my dad.

Both of my dad’s parents were gone before I was born, which happened after my mom had already turned the corner on her third decade. Still young, but bordering on ancient by most pregnancy yardsticks back then.

I think I was supposed to be a German Shepherd. At least that’s what my dad offered up to my mom instead of a second kid. But then I showed up.

My dad’s father died from a heart attack on the side of a Southern California road when my dad was 19. So all I knew of my grandfather were my dad’s stories and a trumpet that stood in a plexiglass case in the living room. My grandfather had played that trumpet with Spike Jones back in the day.
Maybe some of whatever music is in me came from him.

He was a dentist in the Navy and stationed at Pearl Harbor, where he lived in military housing with his wife and my infant dad. My dad and grandmother were sent to Texas when the Japanese started dropping their bombs, and my grandfather stayed back to identify the bodies of his comrades by their teeth.

I don’t know what kind of emotional scars he brought back to civilian life. I don’t know if maybe he drank and smoked more when he came back because of what he saw, and I don’t know if it had any effect on a marriage that would eventually crumble.

But I know he was a veteran.

I’ve put a lot of heart into veterans’ causes, because I believe those men and women have fought and served to protect a sacred freedom to choose the kind of life I live.

And it is a choice.

A choice of which thoughts I follow with action, a choice of what I eat and drink and who I hang out with and what words I say.

A choice I too often take for granted or forget I even have.

A choice I am thanking veterans for today.

Including the grandfather I never met.

Dead Ringer

It was one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen.

I was on the last beautiful stretch of road before Highway 93 hits I-15 on Sunday when I saw the dog being kicked and punched. A white guy with a beard, maybe in his mid-to-late 20s, was in a turnout on the side of the road, launching a pit bull like a rag doll with his boot. Every time the dog fell to the ground and rolled over to submit, he’d punch it in the gut. I was going 70 in a cargo van and could still hear the frantic whines of the dog.

I saw several kicks and punches as I drove by, before watching the scene fade into my side mirror. I didn’t stop, because what was I going to do? The guy could have been carrying, and my own older dog was in the back of the van. She can’t really run away from trouble these days.

Who knows what he would have done if I confronted him.

I hadn’t heard about the Texas church shooting until today, when I saw Devin Kelly’s picture: white guy with a beard in his mid-to-late 20’s.

He looked exactly like the guy I saw beating his dog on the side of the road.

And I read this under his photo:

“In August 2014, Kelley was charged with a misdemeanor count of mistreatment, neglect or cruelty to animals in nearby El Paso County, Colo. Sheriff’s deputies responded to a call about a man who was punching a dog, police records indicate. Four witnesses told deputies that they saw a man matching Kelley’s description yelling at and chasing a white-and-brown husky.

‘The suspect then started beating on the dog with both fists, punching it in the head and chest,’ a deputy wrote in the incident report. ‘He could hear the suspect yelling at the dog and while he was striking it, the dog was yelping and whining. The suspect then picked up the dog by the neck into the air and threw it onto the ground and then drug him away to lot 60.’

Kelley was charged with animal cruelty and the dog was transferred to the Humane Society for a full medical evaluation.”

So on the same day I’d seen this guy beating his dog on the side of the road, his dead-ringer Devin Kelly, who’d done the same thing a few years ago, was shooting up a church.

What’s the lesson?

I don’t know.

But I do know that one thing leads to another.

And next time I see something like that, I’m going to do something other than just drive away.