This morning, I received a text message from my mother. It simply read-
“Do you know what you were doing this morning, 7 years ago?”
There was only one thing I really could think of, but I couldn’t believe that it had been so long, so I wasn’t entirely sure. Don’t get me wrong, I know what day it is and what memory today will always told, but I didn’t think that it had been 7 years.
Turns out, it was the right event I was thinking of. I don’t think I, or anyone in my family will ever forget today’s meaning.
Today marks the anniversary of my grandfather’s passing.
7 years ago, my grandfather lost his fight against the cancer that he had lived with for so long. It wasn’t a short battle, but in the end, he decided that the pain of chemotherapy wasn’t worth the time he lost that he could be spending with his family. So, he decided to discontinue his treatment, knowing it only delayed the inevitable, and lived out his last months surrounded by his family. We shared in memories both sweet and painful during that time.
He told us his story- how it was when he fought in the war, his experiences growing up, and how he met my grandmother.
In those few months, that once secretive man opened up to us and shared a life story that is unlike any that I’ve heard before. Firsthand stories of war are hard to come by unless you know where to look, and not many willingly offer up their tales. Often, their stories are incredibly painful for them to retell, but he did so without ever losing his joking attitude, always lightening the moment with an appropriately amusing, but fitting, tale or comment.
We found out that he had been awarded a Purple Heart for his services, something that few of us had known and even fewer had ever seen.
We learned the story as to how he began the family business.
We learned about the experiences that shaped him into the man that we all knew and dearly loved.
He married my grandmother, Phyllis (Cipullo) Bale, on July 14, 1946 in Santa Maria, Italy. They were married for 59 years.
He served in the Army during World War II. He held a myriad careers ranging from being a machinist for PSNS and a planner and estimator for Advanced Planning PERA. He was a real estate business owner and owned an appliance repair business from 1974-1985; he was a bus driver for 31 years (as a worker to and from PSNS).
He was a member of the Knights of Columbus, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and American Legion. He was interested in heavy machinery, traveling, genealogy, real estate and apartment operations. He was a member of Holy Trinity Catholic Church.
He even got a write up in the Kitsap Sun, our local newspaper.
Those last few months with him were hard, but I will forever hold them close to my heart. As will I hold the memory of that last goodnight and farewell on the 23rd.
They’re painful, bittersweet memories, but I hold them dear nonetheless.
My strongest memory of him isn’t him lying there in his bed, looking weak and tired. No, my strongest memory of him will always be of him laughing as he regaled us with some tale during the summer evenings my parents, brother, and I would go down the road and we would all have dinner together outside. The birds would always be chirping, butterflies flexing their wings on grandma’s rhododendron bushes, and dragonflies zooming overhead.
7 years ago today, I remember leaving my aunt’s house where everyone was gathered and heading back home after he had passed. I remember my brother and I having a very quiet drive home. Neither of us spoke much, and we didn’t need to. We were both reliving the memories from years past, lost in them as we headed home. Why did we leave?
I had a band competition to play at that morning. I remember getting on the bus that morning and having my teacher give me a look that I can only describe as a mix of shock and confusion, with a little bit of uncertainty thrown in.
“You didn’t have to come today. I would have understood.” He told me.
All I could do was give him a small smile in return.
“I know. I chose to come.”
When I reached Alison there in our seat near the back, not much was said. She knew, but I think she knew I wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. So, she hugged me and said what she could.
It may sound odd, but I didn’t want to see the pity in people’s eyes when they found out. I just wanted to be a 15 year old bass clarinet player at a competition with her school So, the only ones who knew that day was my band teacher and Alison. To this day, they are the only ones from that group who were actually told by either myself or my mom.
Why did I go that day instead of staying with my family?
The reason, although I couldn’t bring myself to think it until years later, was simple.
It was something I wasn’t ready to face.
I knew he was gone, but I didn’t want to be around that much sadness. To show such an outpouring of grief for a man who had lived his life to better others, always offering a kind word, humorous story, or anything else you needed- it didn’t seem right.
I didn’t want my memory of him to be clouded by that much sadness.
I wanted to, no-needed to- say goodbye to him in my own way and to grieve in my own fashion.
So, I went and played with my band. We ended up taking top honors that day, and I can honestly say that I don’t think we ever sounded better at that competition.
That weekend was also our local PDFC dog show that my club helped out at. Alison and I were both members and were supposed to be working there all weekend. My mom, dad, and I decided to forgo volunteering that Saturday- understandably so.
When mom and I decided to give it a shot the next day, Sunday, Alison was there. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a bigger hug from her, except for at graduation 4 years ago.
“I was worried about you.”
To this day, I don’t think I could have gotten through that weekend, let alone the coming weeks, without her watching over me. So, to Alison- Thank you. You’ve been the truest friend I could have ever asked for. Your support over the years has been invaluable and I can never thank you enough.
The day of the funeral came and I can say with certainty- it was one of the hardest days of my life, even to this date.
There was a soldier there who played at the gravesite. That one short piece was what broke the tentative composure that most people had regained during the drive to the cemetery. Tears abounded once more as the service was concluded. A flag was presented to my grandmother that we later had placed in a holder to preserve it, along with the medal.
Throughout both services, both the memorial in the church and the site, there was an outpouring of support. People that we had no idea who they were, were there- all because grandpa had touched their lives in some way and made a difference. To this day, we still get the occasional phone call from someone he knew, asking how he’s doing. We’ve learned that sometimes, it’s safer to let those unknown numbers go to voicemail.
So, on this day- My family and I remember a man who touched the hearts and lives of not only his family, but strangers and friends alike. As we go through our lives, I hope that both you and grandma are reunited up there and watching over us, sharing in our good times as well as bad, and guiding us through our days. I know that you are both loved and missed, and it’s not quite the same without you two.
Last, but certainly not least- A huge thank you to my dad, mom, and brother- I wouldn’t have been able to be as outwardly strong as I was without seeing your strength throughout this.
To my readers- I apologize for such a sad story, but know that I share it with you because each of you are important to me and I’m incredibly thankful for everyone who reads what I write, happy or sad, informative or rambling.
In the years that have passed, I’ve realized I’m secretive in my grieving, opening up to only a select few after a certain time has passed. I don’t like to be treated like a fragile doll that’s about to break. As long as I’m allowed to mourn in my own time, I’ll be fine. But the second people start asking how I’m doing, over and over again, like they think I’m going to break down at any moment…I can’t handle that. I just want to be allowed to do my own thing and I’ll talk to you if and when I’m ready. That’s just how I am. No matter what life deals me, I’m still the same person.
It’s a Bale thing. I’ve come to realize that as well. We don’t really talk about what bothers us. We deal with it, and then once we’ve come to terms with it- it’s promptly shoved into that dark box in the back of our minds labeled ‘Do Not Open Until…’. And you know what? It works. Each person deals with life differently, it’s just how most of us choose to handle things.
I digress though.
On this day, I remember Walter Fred Bale, born January 14, 1924. He was many things- business owner, farm boy, soldier, son, brother, father, and husband. But most important to me- he was my grandfather and I will never forget him and everything he taught me.