It’s easy to forget why we celebrate Memorial Day, especially this past one, which already feels so long ago. A lot of Americans who’d been sheltering in place or social distancing for weeks or months were eager to focus on something positive and fun, especially with many state health restrictions starting to ease. At the house I’ve been staying at in New Jersey these past few months, I could smell my neighbors’ barbecue pits heating up at 9 a.m.
But as eager as I was to enjoy the warm weather and long weekend, two people were also on my mind: my grandfathers. Sadly, they both passed before I was old enough to get to know them. Both of them served in World War II, and I found myself wishing I could ask them what they thought of the state of the world today, maybe over a glass of wine (or, more likely I’ve been told, a few beers).
My paternal grandfather, Dominic Anthony Sciaretta, served in Company I, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division from March 1942 through December 1945. According to my Uncle Jimmy, who wrote a memoir of Pop-Pop Dom, as our family called him, my grandfather suffered a concussion while fighting in Okinawa, where he fought in many battles, including the infamous battle at Hacksaw Ridge. A mortar-type shell that weighed 675 pounds exploded near him, and he was hospitalized for over a week for a concussion and battle fatigue.
He received the Purple Heart for his injury, but liked to tell my grandmother that he only got “knocked on his ass” and wasn’t deserving of the same recognition as soldiers who lost limbs or worse.
On the other side of the family, my mother’s father, Harry Toepfer, had been a promising first baseman prospect for the St. Louis Cardinals before he was called away to Europe. Lost opportunities like that really put the disappointment of a springtime spent social distancing in perspective.
Of course, I did enjoy a wine (or two) on Memorial Day, and I made a point of opening some American wines, one of which was a bottle of Pride Syrah Sonoma County 2014 that my husband, Frank, and I purchased a few years ago when we visited the winery in St. Helena.
The wine was aging beautifully, with smooth, supple tannins encasing the boysenberry, pepper, mineral, cured meat and smoky notes. We enjoyed it with dry-rubbed ribs and grilled vegetables. I know that both of my grandfathers were big beer drinkers, but I think they would have approved.
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