One of the things that I dislike about Remembrance Day is the ambiguity that has developed, and has in some cases been encouraged, about what exactly it is we are supposed to be remembering. When I was younger it was much more clear. Most of my uncles fought in the Second World War. The fact that they never talked about it told us most of what we needed to know, about what it had been like. My father was the youngest in his family, and so he did not have to serve. He wrote a story, however, about his older brother returning from the war. It has become a useful reminder, in our family, of what we should be striving to remember:
- The Soldier
the door of the house opened. a man in soldier’s uniform came out and stood on the back porch. he put his boots down one after another on the four steps and then onto the dirt path. he went along the footpath to the brown shed at the bottom of the yard.
the roof and walls of the shed were covered with brown shingles. two boys were near the shed. the larger boy held a B-B gun in one hand. he held it by the barrel and the handle hung down almost to the tops of the weeds around his feet. the smaller boy was kneeling on the ground. he held his head in his hands. he was crying. his tears dropped into the dust in front of his knees and rolled up into black balls.
when the man got to the boys, he reached out and took the rifle from the larger boy. the boy’s hand held onto the gun and the man had to pull hard before the hand let go. both boys looked at the man.
did you hit him with this?
the man held the gun with one hand at the end of the handle and with the other hand around the end of the barrel. he raised it in front of him above his head. he raised his right knee until it was level in front of his hip. he brought the gun down. it broke off just above the metal on the handle. the wood stuck up from the metal in long and short splinters. the man threw the two parts of the gun down in the dust and walked back to the porch. he went into the house.
the larger boy picked up the two pieces of gun and tried to fit them together. he was crying.
The soldier here is my uncle Harold. He served in the South Saskatchewan Regiment, made the beach landing at Dieppe, managed to survive the retreat, and lived out the rest of his life a bitter man. The boys are his son John and my father.
The story is from Terrence Heath, The Truth & Other Stories (Toronto: Anansi, 1972).