Essaying – on Grady Spires and Normandy

I took Intro to Philosophy with Grady Spires during my freshman year at Gordon College in the early ’80s. Grady was jazzed by the subject, of course, which sort of got me jazzed, too, though it was clear that philosophy wasn’t going to be my dance partner. In class he would often play a bluesy version of “Rock of Ages.”

And Grady led 20 students (among them Dorothy Boorse and me) on a European Seminar trip through Western Europe in the summer of ’86. He got a nose bleed in the middle of the night in Nuremberg or Augsburg, and had to go to the hospital, where he lay around for a couple days while they tried to figure out the cause–and we soldiered on without him.

But my great Grady memory, the one I tell several times every year, concerns our arrival in Normandy.

We got to our camp site at Omaha Beach late in the day, and the weather wasn’t great, and we were all tired. I suppose because of the conditions, Grady decided we should find a local cafe for dinner. We quickly struck out: there weren’t many cafes around, or they were closed. We pulled forlornly up to a farmhouse with a sign promising food. An old-timer sauntered out to tell us that they, too, were closed. He tried a little French with Grady: no-go. Grady tried a little English: same. Then, Grady shifted into German. And the French fellow answered in German. And they suddenly began to converse IN GERMAN. The man tilted his head toward all of us stale, Keds-wearing students in the back seats and said, “Americans?” Yes, we answered.

Then he was booming something that meant, “Get out right this minute, you’re coming with me.”

“He’s making us dinner, let’s go,” Grady said. We all fell out of the vans and followed the man around to tables in his back yard, and his wife came out. They were going to fix us a huge meal of pasta and salad, and it was going to be free, and it didn’t matter that the cafe was closed–because we were Americans, and he would always welcome Americans, was viscerally grateful to our kin who had hit the beaches a mile away and liberated his village and his country. This he spoke to us in German, with Grady interpreting, as we sat to our meal, under-dressed and dumbstruck, with hands too small to handle what was being served up.

And he brought out a bottle of vodka, and poured himself and Grady a confident amount, and I briefly wondered, “Is Grady going to drink vodka with all of us watching?” And then they toasted and, thank God, Grady did knock back that glass, and did a patented Grady arm-shimmy and whoop, and our man poured them both a second, and Grady did his honorable best with that one, too.

Everything about Grady was equal to that moment. There he decided: Sometimes you grind grain on the Sabbath, or eat meat with publicans, or drink strong drink in the presence of your allies. Speaking German, by Omaha Beach, that’s what you do when you’re Grady Spires.

-There are a million great Grady stories. Some involve bottle caps.

3 thoughts on “Essaying – on Grady Spires and Normandy

  1. Valerie McCoy

    Oh Mark, thank you for your pen representing a story I liked to recall as The Spires Chronicles. Grady could be such a rascal and at the same time, deeply profound without being aware of it. I remember the following with,such affection

    As I walked from Lane Student Center to Frost Hall, many years ago, alongside Grady, he asked me if I wanted to hear a story. Of course, I replied. “Did you know, Valerie, that I went to Great Britain some years ago and did a radio presentation with C.S. Lewis, before his death in 1963? It was a thrilling and humbling experience which left me with lofty thoughts and puffy pride. I got home, opened my front door to find my wife, broom in hand, telling me she was happy that I ha d such a grand time consorting with the elite…….but the basement was filled with the contents of a foul toilet and I now needed to climb back into reality and take care of the task at hand.”
    I stopped walking in order to give my heartfelt attention to the resolution of his dilemma. But knowing Grady as we do, he swiftly kept his chariots of fire moving without even a “have a great day,”
    And that was so Grady…..dropping a teaching of enormous magnitude and then walking away. Thank you for that Grady. And thank you Mark for recalling him to mind.

    And by the way, my Peter has a nasty hernia the size of one of Sigourney Weaver’s “aliens” and his gastroenterologist told him to leave it alone unless it becomes a nuisance. I surely hope yours has given way to a calmer, quieter place without pain.
    With a friendly embrace to you,


  2. Cynthia Purdy

    This has always been one of my favorite stories about my Dad, although when he told it he did not mention the vodka part. He loved touching people in this way…sharing God’s grace with everyone. Grady passed into the hands of his Lord on August 27th, 2019 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. Through it all, he kept his faith in God, his kindness to others and his sense of humor. We are grateful he is now at peace. Thank you all for loving him.


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