Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Remembrance

I always think of my Granddad today, Remembrance Day. Here is his story, which I composed on a previous, now defunct blog:

2005-02-14 @ 5:06 p.m.
Peter Smith

“How are you holding up, Granddad?”
“I’m ok. It’s lonely, you know.”
Oh Granddad, I thought, she died last May. You have to let her go.
“We had some hard times,” he continued, “but that’s what you get when you have a German and a Welsh girl together. Both hardheaded. There was a time I almost said forget it all. I was going to wait until the kids were old enough and then I was going to leave.”
“What stopped you, Granddad?”
“My faith. I prayed. And the Lord, he told me to stay. I have her picture now beside me. On our wedding day. And we almost had 60 years, but she just couldn’t hold on. She is so beautiful in that picture. She had red hair. I really miss her.”
“I know you do, Granddad. How does a marriage stay together for almost 60 years?”
“You have to pray. You just have to have faith.”

I could not have known it would be my last phone conversation with him. My mom called today, Valentines Day, to tell me he had died of a heart attack. “He had a broken heart,” she said through her tears.

My Granddad is gone. That firm, strict man who insisted there was a proper way to do things but who definitely had a sparkle of fun in his eyes. He had an impeccably trimmed mustache, well pressed clothes and wore slippers and cardigans around the house. He did his army calisthenics every morning – one push up for every year of his age, he told me – and loved to putter around, putting things in order. He was the one who took us outside with the toboggan.

There are so many stories from Granddad, and now I can only hope to remember them right. How he was born to German-speaking Austrian parents in a northern part of Yugoslavia. How he came to Canada when he was six and his father promptly left him and his mother*/**. How he worked his way across Canada doing farm work and how he loved to walk, camp, travel, and smoked a pipe for over 40 years, which gave him the emphysema that later plagued him. How his car and his room and his books were always neat and how he had that cuckoo clock that he wound every day and a canary named Cicero that whistled until you put the cover over its cage. And how he had a workshop that smelled like a workshop and produced all sorts of handmade toys out of bottle caps and pieces of wood. How he had a scratchy black and white-checked recliner. How he had an absolute, unwavering faith in the Catholic church.

But perhaps his greatest story started around May, 1944, when he was a young Canadian soldier waiting in London, UK, to be deployed. He was bored one night and almost went to a movie or something but decided to go roller-skating instead. The announcer called a break and the skaters left the rink, save for a short, sparkling redhead who could barely skate. Like any hero, my Granddad, skated over and helped her off. She was a Welsh girl who had a job at a hotel. He asked if she would go out for a cup of tea with him. She said she would.

A few weeks later he shipped out across the Channel, having missed D-Day by mere days (as an engineer, he had his own army issued radio and listened to the landing from the British coast). Granddad spoke fluent German and was assigned to a unit that would push further into Europe. I think it was Holland where they came across a German road barricade. His unit took cover.

“Tell them to surrender,” his senior officer ordered. Granddad shouted out in German. Shots were fired.
“Tell them again to surrender,” barked the order, “make sure they hear it!”
So Granddad had to raise himself up enough to be heard. He shouted out in German and before he could drop back to the ground, a shot rang out, nailing him in the chest. The bullet nicked his heart.

His recuperation in the UK took months and the redheaded Welsh girl kept close. When he was well enough, they made a trip to Wales to meet her family and her brothers took him out and got him drunk. With her family’s blessing, they married. And 50-some years later, they were still together, settled in Winnipeg with a decent civil servant pension, three kids and seven grandkids.***

Peter Smith, my Granddad, I still miss you. I hope you have found your redheaded Welsh girl.

*Granddad's parents made him chose. They took him to a restaurant, sat him down and said, "do you want to go with your mother or father?" At six years old, he knew he was choosing to lose one parent, possibly forever. And being only six, he chose his mother. He wouldn't reconnect with his father until he was in his sixties, Great-Granddad Nick in his eighties.

**Apparently Great-Granddad Nick ended up spying on the Russians in Toronto for what is now CSIS.

***Since this composition, two great-grandsons have been born, Isaiah and Mac. I see Granddad in the shapes of their mouths.

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Anonymous Anonymous ~ 4:40 PM

What a beautiful story and remembrance of your grandfather. You must try to get Trev to write the wartime story of his grandparents. Another beautiful story.
Grandma A....  

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