My grandfather died when I was only 8 years old. I have only a few memories of him -- him bouncing me on his knee singing me songs like, "How much is that doggy in the window" and spoiling me with donut-holes that my mother later would always scold him for. When I was pretending to be Simba from the Lion King, crawling on the floor on all fours, he would make fun of me calling me a frog instead of a lion. We would fight like that a lot, "I'm a lion, not a frog!" He taught me to wink with both eyes. When it was time to go home after visiting with him, I always cried saying good-bye.
When he died, it was my first experience with death and it was very confusing. He had a chest downstairs at my grandma's house next to the toy box that was full of his World War II and Korean War artifacts. Sometimes, instead of playing with the toys with my cousins, I would delicately look through his old things from old times.
My family jokes that my grandfather lied about his age to be accepted to fight in World War II. He was able to go in the end, and left my grandmother alone in Michigan while he traveled the world, fighting for his country.
During his time abroad, while my grandmother was learning to hate the Japanese people through American propaganda, my grandfather learned to love the Japanese people. He was stationed there for some time and fell in love with them and their culture. During that time, it is said that he used to teach the Japanese English. His favorite word to teach them was, "Philadelphia" because they always had trouble with pronouncing it.
When I would go through his books, the Occupation-era money, and wall scrolls with Kanji and exotic figures wearing kimonos, it was so amazing to me to know that there was a country out there somewhere that could read that language, that lived in a world so different than mine.
All I knew back then was that I didn't know much, but I knew I wanted to know more.