Tuesday, November 10, 2009

November 11

I have a red box in my possession. Once upon a time, it held a fruitcake, but for many, many years now, it has held my father's photographs, including many when he was a navigator on the home guard in World War II.

My father never talked about the war. My father really never talked about the past at all. He lost his father at a young age, when his father, a railway man, was crushed between two rail cars. Dad was the eldest, and felt the weight of responsibility for his younger siblings and his mother. My mother said that dad once told her about how he and his brothers would follow a fruit truck during the Depression and steal fruit from the back of it to take home to eat. Dad never talked about it.

The photos in the box tell of a life I never knew. I didn't know the box existed until after his sister's death. She might have been able to identify some of the people in the photos. I would have liked to know who "Ray" was for example, because he certainly figured prominently in photos. Mom thinks he might have been the friend that dad mentioned was killed in the War, but she isn't sure.

There are many pictures of dad's whole squadron from World War II, and the back of some of them is signed by every member.(In the photo above, my father is in 2nd row,  centre 5th from left) Dad never made it overseas during the War, and I think he felt like he didn't contribute as much somehow because of it.

The only story my father would tell, with glee, was of the time that he was chosen to escort Yvonne DeCarlo. Ms. DeCarlo (the original Lily Munster) was a famous movie star, and was filming in Vancouver and decided to do a goodwill visit to the base and the hospital to boost morale. There are photos of her with my dad and a couple of other fellows, and that is the only War related story my father would ever tell.
(My father is in the centre)

Remembrance Day in our house was special and required attendance. We were all home because it was a stat holiday then (and should be again) We sat as a family and watched the ceremony from Ottawa. My mother and father would explain the significance of the day, and what each section of the ceremony meant. A couple of family members were Silver Cross Mothers through the years, my mother's cousin was an Engineer who received the Distinguished Service Order for bridging the Orne River, my uncle was a pilot who flew in D-Day, and was shot down. His plane burst into flames on impact and someone on the ground pulled him out. He became a charter member of the Guinea Pig club, where plastic surgery techniques were pioneered. I don't know how many times they re-built his elbow. My father would occasionally join in the discussion, and he was adamant that we watch it as a family. Mostly, he would sit silent, dealing with his own demons and memories, a faraway, sad look in his eyes.

My daughter is at school for Remembrance Day this year, and my father will be dead 20 years on November 22. I don't want to pull my little girl from school to sit and watch Remembrance Day with me, so I'm counting on the school to start teaching the lessons. One of these days though, I will keep her home, we will watch together, and I will show her some of the contents of Grandpa's red box. No story in a book, no lesson in a classroom can replace first-hand accounts of the sacrifice that people gave.

In the meantime, I have a red box of photos. I may not know the who but they were important to my father, and that makes them important to me. Be at peace, dad. They are safe.

1 comment:

Janet Jarrell said...

What a powerful and timely post. I am sure many are going to appreciate your experiences told here, and likely have some similar stories.

Traditionally on this day I would watch the parade of vetrans make their way to the Cenotaph, and it was there that we would observe the moments of silence. I was in highschool when the Gov't decided this day was no longer a holiday. Many friends and I skipped school, attended the parade and the celebrations. We were not diciplined for that.

Peace to you, your family and your red box.