Isn't it odd how little we know the people we love? I was rummaging around in my desk today when I got a reminder of that.
They're just little round bits of metal hanging at the end of once bright ribbons. One of them is called the Military Medal and it's second only to the Victoria Cross in terms of the courage it commemorates. Over eighty years ago they gave this to my grandfather for what he did at Vimy.
Proust had his cookies; me, when I smell that turpentine-y tang of freshly sawn softwood, me I always think of my grandfather. It's the smell of the rough sawn cedar kegs of nails and screws that lived behind the counter of his hardware store, that's what that smell is to me.
The summer I turned eight I lived with my grandparents, spent my days in that small village hardware store with Grandpa. It was a big slice of wonderful for a child like me. Lots of people to chat with, enough little chores to make me feel useful, and a massive roll of paper so I could draw endlessly when the mood struck.
Bags weren't always used in stores back then. As he'd gab away with his customers, grandpa often just tore off a length of paper from that roll and wrapped everything from nails to fishing lures into a tidy package. He'd neatly tie it up with a length of string from the large bobbin that sat on a reel beside the paper. People would hook their fingers through the string and carry their parcels. Isn't it odd, some of the stuff you remember?
It's hard for me to reconcile the old guy with a taste for peppermints that I remember, with an Ottawa Valley farm boy who ran off to a war a lifetime and an ocean away. His father disinherited him for leaving the family farm, for not using his farmer's exemption to stay out of the war.
What made my grandfather keep crawling into machine gun fire so he could pull wounded men back to safety in the trenches? From where does courage like that come? I wish I knew. I didn't even know this side of my grandfather existed until my father was dying a few years ago and he decided I should have grandpa's medals.
After my father died I helped my stepmother go through old pictures and memorabilia, sifting out a few memories to take home with me. In with the pictures was a small cloth bundle.
It was a rabbit's foot. Not one of the tidy little rabbit's feet I remembered from my childhood--those were dyed a colour not normally seen in nature, the end capped with a keychain holder.
This was old, brown, ratty and nothing had been done to disguise the fact a bunny had lost a limb to give someone some luck. Marge told me my father had carried that foot with him all through his war, which included the incredibly brutal Italian campaign. And to my great surprise she told me that whenever they were going on a trip of any distance, he made sure they carried that foot with them.
Isn't it odd how little we know the people we love?
Want to delve into my sordid past?
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