My Grandfather Harold Dibble, is the toughest man I ever knew. He was a Marine and Korean War Veteran. He never spoke of the war to us, but would stick refrigerator magnets to his forehead as a magic trick. Only later was I told that they stuck due to shrapnel from the war. He was a stoic man of few words, but when he spoke it was profound. Sometimes he would tell a joke with a completely straight face and I was unsure if it was okay to laugh.
One of my fondest memories of Grandpa Dibble was helping him split wood every time we visited. When I was little it involved pushing a half-full wheelbarrow without tipping it over. As I got a little older, he would let me take a few swings at the logs before he would take over and make it look easy.
Even when we visited for the last time as his health declined, he upheld the image I had of him as a child. My brother and I were teenagers and tried to split some wood for him. But, we were struggling a bit and Grandpa could only take watching it for so long. Even though he was very ill at this point, he came out and made it look easy. One swing per log. Each was perfectly split. Ours looked like a beaver had split the wood. Grandpa Dibble battled cancer right up to the end and never lost his spirit or begged for sympathy.
Grandpa Dibble often said that a Marine can walk barefoot on a barbwire fence, naked, in the middle of winter, with a wildcat under each arm. He had the nickname of Popeye and eventually someone even drew a picture of him fulfilling that challenge.
In the spirit of friendly branch rivalry, Molson attempted to uphold the honor of the Army by setting his own standard that could measure up to the Marine standard Grandpa Dibble set. Molson told me that an Army Soldier can walk the Appalachian Trail barefoot, naked, in the middle of summer, even at 89 years old. (According to an online dog age calculator, a 12 year old Golden Retriever is comparable to an 89 year old human.) Then he walked the walk. The kids and I went along to carry supplies and water for him.I told Molson, that since I’m not 89 yet there was no point in this old soldier trying to live up to his challenge. So, I wore flip-flops, clothes, and a backpack.
Molson, the kids, and I hiked a few sections of the Appalachian Trail while we were in the mountains. At one point we saw a mama bear and two cubs about 50 feet away. She watched us for what felt like 15 minutes but was probably just 15 seconds, before walking off with her cubs. We saw around 8 deer and a lot of other wildlife but I was always a bit too slow in getting my phone out for pictures.Molson was pretty good about sticking to the trails and always wanted to stay a few steps ahead of the rest of us. At one trail head, we met this fella named Soup who shared a few stories of his hike. He started in Georgia two months ago (and 9 miles before the beginning of the trail due to some misinformation). He still looked strong and healthy halfway through his journey. I wish him the best of luck on the second half of his adventure. Walking the entire AT is quite an accomplishment. Happy Trails Soup! Against Molson’s wishes, I did insist that we did occasionally stop and check our map.Molson would take a drink and then be ready for some more exploring….barefoot and naked. He lived up to his word. Molson and Grandpa Dibble have much in common. They both loved the outdoors, taught us how to have grace in declining health, listen more than they talk, and will always believe they have one more axe swing (or squirrel chase) in them. Cancer sucks and can take anyone’s health without discrimination, but true strength is demonstrated by never letting it take your spirit. If there is one thing I can learn from Molson and Grandpa Dibble’s battles with cancer it is that though our bodies may weaken, true fortitude does not. And whether you are a Devil Dog, or a regular dog, people will remember our character long after the sound of our words (or bark) has faded.
Miss you Grandpa Dibble.