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Phyllis' Son, Greg - Thanksgiving on Veteran's Day

Adapted from That Which Makes Us Stronger

It is Thanksgiving. It's impossible to look in any direction without seeing someone I love.

My Grandma Triggs. Tiny. Birdlike. Always well dressed in a dotty, older British lady way. She desperately loves my grandpa, which explains the blonde rinse she puts in her hair once a month. Thick glasses exaggerate her expressive eyes. She is perhaps the most family-oriented person I will ever know. How I’ll miss her when she passes away in ten years.

She and my grandpa met when she was a dance hall singer in London during World War I. As I understand it from others, she never would have told me herself; she was also a model. I have a beautiful photo of her wrapped in furs which was sold as a postcard all over England. Doughboy soldiers carried Phyllis Tinkum Triggs into fox holes throughout Europe. As an adult I will keep my copy next to the souvenirs she brought home from the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

Grandma and Grandpa married in England. They moved to America after their second son, my dad, was born. In total, they had six boys. Phyllis Triggs was the only woman in the household. Perhaps that’s why she always seems just a little bit nervous. Keeping them all in line had to be draining.

Her fourth son, Gregory, is drafted into service during the Korean War when he’s nineteen-years old. His young body will never be recovered. She will spend the rest of her life combing newspaper obituaries so she can attend the funerals of soldiers who died in battle. She needs to see for herself that the other bodies come home, I suppose. Who knows? Grief isn’t rational. Keeping a list of the fallen, she prays for them while clutching her well-worn rosary.

When my grandfather passes away, six years and four months from now, she will be sad in a way that will never end. She’ll stop visiting the bakery. She will wear his robe to bed. She will cry each time his name is mentioned, so much so that, for a while we will stop talking about him. When she realizes what we’re doing, she will say, “Please don’t do that. I don’t want the world to forget my Billy.” Afterward, her heart will be a little lighter – not for herself, for her family, and to hear his name said by someone other than herself.

A converted Catholic, she will suffer a major stroke while attending church the Monday after her final Mother’s Day. Her last words will be to a priest administering last rites.

“Don’t worry about me, Father. I’m going to be just fine.”

Her funeral will be led by my Great-uncle Father Francis. My two Great-aunts, Sisters Alma Rita and Mary Rita, will play their guitars. Butch will accidentally say, “Pray their guitars.” They’ll be thrilled and say it that way for the rest of their lives.

Service families will be standing at the back of a packed church.

I will be a pallbearer. For weeks afterward, I’ll wonder if I did a good enough job for her body to have been laid to rest perfectly, as she deserved.

That is years from now. Today she’s sneaking a little more salt into Mom’s corn casserole. She’s mad at Grandpa because he’s at the bakery making sure people can pick up their last-minute orders.

“I said, ‘Billy, how many family holidays are you going to miss’?”

Aunt Louise, three times a widow, solemnly nods.

THAT WHICH MAKES US STRONG is available on Amazon and at


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