My grandfather, a World War II vet & proud member of the Royal Canadian Legion, passed away two years ago. My only knowledge of him in his war years is a photograph. It is not your typical war photo. No uniform, no equipment, no machinery. It is a youthful man caught off-guard in his bunk, with striped pajamas, ruffled hair and a twinkle in his eye as he looks off to a poster of a bombshell, not a bomb, pinned up on the wall. That is memorabilia. That photo is what was on display at his funeral. That twinkle in his eye is what makes that piece of memorabilia so meaningful, as that same twinkle was in Papa’s eye every time he looked at me in the 35 years I was privileged to have him in my life.
My dad, a man who became a proud Canadian citizen in the 80s, emigrated from the U.K. in his early 20s. He was a young lad in a small town in Britain in the early ‘40s. His simple story of being 4 years old, with warplanes flying overhead, as he picked berries from the bushes is a picture in my head. I can clearly see this in my head as if it’s a black and white video reel of this moment in his life, as he brought that basket of berries home for his mom (my grandma) to feed to the soldiers they were caring for. Recently my husband and I had a browse through my dad’s antique collection of books. The boyhood stitch bound blueprint-style books with picture after picture of German warcraft and English warcraft, which were used at the time for ominously practical purposes, solidifies the image of the boy in my head. He has a basket of berries in his hand, forgotten as he looks at the sky with curiosity, not fear, as he tries to match the planes overhead with the pictures in his book. The imagination has a way of making verbal stories into pictures in our mind.
I drew a poster for Remembrance Day in grade 5 for a Province of Alberta sponsored contest. I drew Flanders Field where poppies grow and soldiers lay, row on row. I won a prize. I wish I still had that poster.
My husband and I were married 17 days after 9/11. We traveled to New Orleans one week later and experienced uniforms, guns, security measures, fear… and laughter. In laughter and love there is relief from fear. In suspended disbelief from a world about to change, airports of people found sanity in finding joy while fighting fear. Perhaps we are braver, bolder people and parents because of the time in life we were married.
Today my daughters told me what they learned in school about poppies and Remembrance Day. They asked me to sing Oh Canada with them. We did- five times in a row.
These are my experiences with war. I do not know anyone in my current life that is in any troops, nor do I know any families who have troops overseas. I am grateful and aware all the same of the great debts owed to those who go to war, the families left behind, those innocent bystanders in the countries where war exists on their turf, and those who more actively support peacekeepers than I do.
If we reflect back on blockbuster movies, many are ‘war stories’. We have managed to romanticize the notion of war in times past without losing importance of the act of war for creating democracy and peace (Band of Brothers, Pearl Harbour). It is hard to imagine the past 8 years romanticized in the same way, but I suspect it will happen, in our lifetimes. It is very hard to imagine.
We have photographs, antiques, keepsakes and memories. We have memorabilia. We have lost loved ones in our hearts. Remember lest we forget.