Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lest We Forget

The movie post will be tomorrow, given that the 11th is Remembrance Day here in Canada.

*****

It has been a long time since World War II.  Longer again since The Great War.  I will be reminded of that when I watch the final few World War II vets at our local Cenotaph, some still walking in the parade, most now bussed there and seated in special chairs brought in for the occasion or in their own wheelchairs.

When I was young, these were men in their 40s and 50s; young and robust, they marched quickly to the Cenotaph in our small town, retiring to the local Legion immediately thereafter for a hearty lunch and more than a few rums and an afternoon of kinship and reminiscing.

My own grandfather enlisted in the army when he was 39 years old.  He was patriotic, but mainly, he needed to support his family because the small town they lived in here in New Brunswick was particularly hard hit from the Depression.  He needed a regular paycheck.

So off he went, ending up in England, in charge of supplies for his base and for kitting up the bombers that left for their nightly sorties.  He was so much older than the young men and women with whom he worked that he went by the moniker "Dad".  And I do not know, but I have to believe, that it must have been hard to be "Dad" to so many who did not come back.

At home he left my dad, my grandmother and my Aunt Betty.  Betty was already mostly grown up as she was 16; my dad was only 8 when his father left and he and his mother moved in with his maternal grandparents who lived in a massive old house in another town nearby.  He was lonely and sad and he missed his father acutely.  And his father missed him.  When we cleaned out my dad's room in the nursing home last year after he died I found a packet of letters that my grandfather had written him during the war.  The letters would make you weep; my grandfather missed my dad so much.




Whenever I am feeling whiny about something, I think of my grandfather and my father.  I think of the men who died in places far away from home.  I think of the men who came back and were never quite the same.  I think of what they did for us, and I am very proud.

My grandfather lived to be 80 years old.  He was beloved by all who knew him.  He was a good time at a party, and though he was quiet man, he was always surrounded by people who wanted to hear his stories.

I never knew him as a young man, but as the man below, smoking his pipe, grateful for the life he had and likely contemplating, now and then, those whom 'Dad' sent off and never saw again.




There is of course a segue to other memories, other remembrances.

Today it has been 12 years since my mother passed away on November 11th.  Only a few hours shy of the same day, my dad passed away on the 12th of November a year ago.

I recently chatted with an acquaintance who'd just lost her mother.  We talked about how losing one's last parent gives one the jarring feeling of suddenly being an orphan. 

The people who brought you to the party have left.

Your parents may drive you crazy.  You may drive them crazy.  They may be good parents or bad parents or indifferent parents, but they are your parents.  And most parents love their children in ways that defy reason and common sense.

Now that mine are both gone I have no one to ask "when did I do this?" or  "what happened that time?"  Those opportunities are lost forever - what I can't remember I make up or I try and jog my sister or brother's memories to see if they recall.

Now when I see pictures and the odd video and recall a time when they were young and I was young, I wish there was a way to go visit that land, if only for a day.

Last week I happened to drive down the street where my parents lived in a flat in an old house when I was a baby and my sister was two years old.  All of the pictures in that house are happy ones; there are no life and career disappointments for the young couple who live there - they are happy and in love and they have good neighbours who help them with the children and they are content and excited about the future.

The entire street was teeming with ghosts as I drove along.  I could see old neighbours, long dead, the house that Barry and I rented when we were 24 years old that was just three door down from where I lived as a baby, the awful dump Barry lived in at University across the street.

I could see me pushing my daughter in a stroller on that street, walking by that same small flat, thinking of my parents.    I blinked again and I swear, for a moment I could see my mother and father walking too, in a different time in the exact same place, her pushing a stroller, him carrying my sister. They were laughing.

As I drove by, they looked at me, and smiled.



 
 

38 comments:

  1. Aw that last part made me cry. That was a lovely post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Cate! It made me cry to write it!

      Delete
  2. Beautiful post Wendy and what a day this is for you, I am thinking of you.
    When we remember the past comes alive here in the present, you've illustrated that for us! xox

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Dani. It is hard to have the anniversaries of their deaths on basically the same day, but on the other hand, it gets it done in one fell (and emotional!) swoop!

      Delete
  3. Such a moving post Wendy and I've got tears in my eyes reading this. Always keeping your parents right beside you. What a treasure for us to be included.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh my dear, I will be devastated when my parents pass. Not sure what I will do with out my father. He left for Vietnam when I was 6 weeks old and my sister two. My mother went from Germany all the way to Washington state and lived with her inlaws for over two years. Tell me that wasn't hard. Much love.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Isn't that amazing? I think we forget how brave and uncomplaining these folks were....

      Delete
  5. thanks for the resonances, Wendy.
    I drove my sister around on a tour of all the houses we'd lived in as children. The last house on the tour was supposed to be the pièce de résistance, because it was where I was deemed old enough to cross the street by myself and walk to the little corner shop to buy cigarettes for Mom. I was 5. Naturally I had to recite my address perfectly in case I got lost on the 3-block journey, and that house number still features in some of my internet passwords. The house was a child's dream, wide front stairs, narrow twisty back stairs, pocket doors, porches, long tall windows.. Well, the house had disappeared. The driveway, which had a distinctive shape, was still there, but it led to a different house. We still haven't figured it out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. wow! That would be a good mystery for one of my books!!!!

      Delete
  6. MEMORY LANE Love that image of life as a party, with departing guests. WMM thank you for sharing the memories of those you have lost, a fitting tribute on Remembrance Day.

    “Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
    Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”
    ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah Longfellow. Only poetry can do sometimes...

      Delete
  7. A beautiful post Wendy, very bittersweet. I find Remembrance Day very moving.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too! I was weeping at the vets before, now with my parents passing on the same day (or in my dad's case, close enough) it is just so sad...

      Delete
  8. The lazy me may wonder over and think, oh no, much to read and I have no time. But honestly, this could be my favorite post of yours, it was like a good book I couldn't put down and ended too quickly. I can't imagine reading your grandfather's letters, I'd be a mess for certain, your post already has me in tears. How lovely to be able to visit the neighborhoods where generations have lived and to relive those memories. I'm a bit envious, I was born worlds away and my extended family scattered all over the globe and some I've never met.

    I love my parents' wedding picture too. Thanks for helping me remember. Thanks for your wonderful post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks TR - your kind words mean a lot!

      Delete
  9. Oh Wendy! I started to read this at work today! but it made me tear up, so I had to stop lest someone notice me crying!
    Such a beautiful post and one that I think resonates with all of us in some way. My parents are both still alive, but both sets of grandparents have been dead for a long, long time - my paternal grandfather died when my father was 11 of MS.
    I treasure the fact that my children have the chance to get to know their grandparents, while mine are a very dim memory.
    Big hugs at this time of year xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ruth - I hear you! I really do not recall my dad's mother - she was 3 when I died, but I think I am equal parts her and equal parts my mum's mother. It is such a gift to know your grandparents!

      Delete
  10. This was a beautiful post. My grandfather also fought in WWII as an enlisted man and his story is a bit of a piece of the American dream, in that he came from immigrant poverty (his parents never learned English) and through his service was chosen to go to officer's school and then after the war attended university on the GI Bill. My grandfather and my husband's grandfather fought on different sides, but now it is just a reminder of the terrible, terrible loss of life that happened everywhere, to everyone.

    I know what you mean about wanting to go back and visit that land of lost time, even if only for a day. When I think about heaven, I imagine my grandmother there not as she was at the end but as I loved her best, sitting on a rocking porch in heaven with my childhood dog at her feet. I think of my mother-in-law playing tennis and laughing just across the yard from her, and I have to believe that some day I will visit them again, but perhaps not for a long while.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. M- that is a great image!!! I expect to be met my parents and my dogs. That will be a good day, but I also hope it is a long ways off..

      Delete
  11. This is a very moving post Wendy... There would be so much to say... Thank you for sharing your deepest thoughts and taking the time to write those lines... I have not know any of my grand mother, very little one of my grand father and not much the other one... Today is a bit special as I have discovered so much about one of my grand father and a glimpse of what he has been through during WWII. I am working today as in Luxembourg, it is not a day off, but I can't help and think of him very much...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love it that you have learned about your grandfather! I am always trying to piece together my family history and it is so rewarding!

      Delete
  12. That made me cry. You are a beautiful story teller.
    My paternal grandfather changed his
    documents so he would get accepted into the Army. All of his brothers were fighting in WWII and he didn't want to sit bye. He was an incredible man and he never wanted to talk about his time fighting, but I know that he ended up in Germany and he had many medals. Not bad for a 16 year old kid. All of my other grandparents were younger and spent the war fleeing the nazis. I remember my great grandmother and my gradmothers telling me about what they went through and how much family they lost. I will never forget their stories and make sure that I pass them on. What incredible people they were! I learned so much about WWII growing up in Europe, but not so much here in the US. It is much more of a reality there because everyone had a family member or their entire family who was impacted by the war.
    Eternally grateful to all the Veterans and everyone who serves to protect us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A - what a great story!!! I think of those people who go forth every day and put themselves in harm's way - it is so inspiring and humbling!

      Delete
  13. Just a wonderful post about your ancestry as fitted into world history. My paternal GF had the most influence on me; he was a Swedish peasant who worked with the King's horses before he immigrated. Like many immigrants, he became "more American" than those born here. I like to remember working with him in his garden. The war was not something many of these discussed easily.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow - what a great story!!! when my dad died my son inherited my grandfather's army sewing kit - the odd thing was, I never knew it was a military-issued sewing kit till we went to Juno Beach in Normandy to the Canadian museum there and saw one similar.

      Delete
  14. What beautiful writing and such a stirring post. What I know of the wars I have read in books and the horrors should prove a cautionary tale for generations to come. It's so easy to start one but hard to end it. We don't do enough for those who fought and survived but end up broken or without jobs. A big thank you to all the families who sacrifice to keep us and our freedoms safe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marie - I couldn't have said it better! We need to go more to held those folks who come back and try to fit back in, but who struggle! We are blessed to have them!

      Delete
  15. Beautiful post, Wendy. Thank you so much. You are so lucky to have all these memories. My parents immigrated here when I was young, so I did not grow up surrounded by family (all my relatives are on the other side of the world) and know very little of my family history. I wish I knew more - I try to talk to my mother whenever possible about it, but it's not easy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Louise - I think it is a generational thing - we talk about our pain. My parents, and my grandparents were more "let's keep going, don't look back" and they didn't really want to talk much either, though I found that when I would sit on the balcony of the condo we rented on the Gulf of Mexico and my dad had had a few glasses of Merlot, the stories would fly!

      Delete
  16. Wendy, I have tears in my eyes reading this. Deep thanks to your grandfather for his service, and thank you for sharing this beautiful story with us. I know your parents see you, and are so proud of what you are doing.
    It breaks my heart to think of all those vets who come back to a home that is not prepared to integrate them into society. My great uncle never came back from the war. He was 21, and on his last mission when his ship sunk at the hands of the enemy. Not a day went by that my grandmother didn't think of him. Let his memory, and that of all those who we have lost, be our (and their) blessing. Thank you for keeping these people alive by talking about them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks AB! Barry great-great uncle died in northern Germany and is buried in Holten in the Netherlands. We went to visit his grave and it was very touching He was just a young man, too - so sad...

      Delete
  17. I find this post both fascinating and deeply moving. I was a baby during the Second World War with my father away in the army. I am famous for messing up the very smart uniform of a young Canadian air force pilot, my mother's relative. He came to visit and was politely leaning forward to admire me when I bashed my spoon into my bowl of porridge, with disastrous results!
    I've visited the Canadian landing beaches and war graves in France, a very emotional experience. Thank you for writing this piece. I think that this is what makes blogging so worthwhile, enabling experiences and stories from all over the world to be shared and appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. what a great story! I imagine that your mum (and you) had quite a few stories to tell!

      My mother's best friend is still alive and is a war bride. I think of those women who left their families to follow love as well and what that was like. What a generation they were!

      Delete
  18. Very touching post Wendy...Even the Queen looked genuinely moved as opposed to solemn due to ceremony. It is important to share these stories because sometimes the sheer number of casualties lessen the individual traumas and memories...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks CSW - I agree completely. Every family has a story, all over the world, we only have to tell them...

      Delete
  19. It seems odd at times that we humans come to love and respect who our parents were and what they did after we have enough distance to see these things more clearly. Sadly it is often too late for this clarity to affect our relationship with each other. After I did some research on my fathers war years I realized I never knew that man. By then it was too late, he had passed away. Lovely post WMM.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Sending best wishes your way for the next few days as they are bound to be emotional. Veterans Day always makes me so thankful for all of the sacrifice.

    ReplyDelete

Kindness is a virtue...