Happy Memories, Sad Memories

Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Doing the morning rounds of my usual websites and blogs, I came across an article on CBC.ca. The government has unanimously decided to have a state funeral for the last veteran of the Great War (World War I) when he passes away. These events are traditionally reserved for former prime ministers and the governors general, the Queen’s representative in Canada. Canada currently has only three surviving veterans who served between 1914 – 1918. I think it is a wonderful idea but why not do something special for all three of these men? They’re all well over 100 years old and are last ties we have to that piece of world history.

The article brought up, naturally, memories of my mother’s parents, both of whom served overseas during World War II. My grandmother, Cecily Eardley-Wilmot, was a driver in London and my grandfather, Eliol Alber Leyden (no those are not typos – that was how his names were spelled), began his service as part of the forestry corps in Scotland and then saw active duty as part of an anti-tank unit in Germany and France. They met in London during the war and married, I believe, shortly after returning to Canada. They were certainly not perfect – they had their faults. My grandmother was strong, confident and independent, which sometimes translated into what could seem at times to be unemotional and hard. My mother, as the eldest child, bore the brunt of this. My grandfather, from what I can remember, was a drinker and a heavy smoker, an addictive personality that was passed down to more than one subsequent generation. I vaguely remember my mother talking about beatings my grandfather would administer but I’m not entirely positive so we’ll just leave it at that. Like a lot of men his generation, he was emotionally distant for lack of a better term. Despite all their faults (which everyone has in one form or another), I loved them dearly and miss them terribly. They loved us all as best they knew how, and served their country voluntarily despite the risks involved. I’m still considering the back/shoulder tattoos of their formal service portraits.

My, I do like to go off on a tangent don’t I? The reason I brought this whole thing up in the first place is that my mother presented me with a little gift last night. I had had dinner at her place after work last night and as I was leaving, she passed me two cassette tapes. They are taped conversations of my grandmother discussing her family and her history with, I believe, my great Aunt Sylvia (whom my mother was named after). I have not yet listened to these and am unsure when I will. Just thinking about hearing her voice again brings tears to my eyes. Despite the not-so-happy memories some of her children have of her, I will always think of her as I first described her: strong, confident and independent. Considering the time and the small towns she lived in, she was quite ahead of her time. She was tall, slender and handsome. Not pretty or beautiful. I wouldn’t even call her cute. Cecily was handsome. She reminds me of a Canadian Katharine Hepburn although this is likely not as close to the truth as I would like to believe – however, that is how I chose to remember her.

My grandfather was an old fart. Don’t worry, he’d be thrilled at that description. It was how he signed his letters to me. I was the young fart and he was the old one. My memories of him are fewer as my grandparents were long separated by the time I’m able to remember anything about him. He had been “living in sin” with a wonderful woman who remained by his side until he passed away – Fran. She was fantastic but very different from my grandmother. Probably why they lasted together so long. Granddad was a jokester, a prankster and smart as a whip despite only having an elementary school education. As my Aunt said during his eulogy, he would tell her what he expected to get back from his taxes (a number he had worked out presumably in his head) and if she didn’t get the same number, she’d have to go back and do it all over again. Every year. He had smoked most of his life until sometime in his 50s I believe when his doctors told him he had emphysema. He quit cold turkey. However, as his disease progressed, he was given hormones (female!) to help try and combat some of the effects. This resulted in breasts. The expression “man-boobs” doesn’t do them justice – he had actual breasts. And yet, he would still walk around in an unbuttoned shirt with his “girls” hanging out whenever company would come over. I think he was secretly proud of them. Truthfully, they were bigger than some of the Leyden women’s. He led a very interesting life, service in the war, working on the Avro Arrow are just two of the amazing parts of his life. He had a fondness for the ladies and off-colour jokes. He’ll always be an old fart to me.

I'd post pics of them but blogger once again won't let me.


Sniffy said...

Use flickr to post pics, it's a doddle.

I bet those three old blokes are thrilled at the thought of the eyes of the entire nation being focussed on them in anticipation of seeing who lasts longest! I think it's a great idea, but perhaps the government should've asked them what they would have liked. Perhaps a special veterans' day celebration in their honour while they're still alive would be a bit nicer. And then follow this up with the state funeral of course.

My grandad fought in the first world war. He was 16 when he joined up, but he got through it. It's sad that an entire generation of young men were either slaughtered or scarred for absolutely nothing - we're still killing each other nearly a hundred years on.

We must remember these men and the horrors of conflict, one day the futility of it might just sink in.

Your word verification takes the piss.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What a wonderful tribute to your grandparents. And how lovely that you have the tapes your grandmother made. This makes me realize how very little I actually know about my own family.

Anonymous said...

ditto to what barbara says, i enjoyed reading this....my grand parents were old people that i knew only on ocaissonal weekend visits, my paternal grnadparents...i never understood...they spoke ukrainian...and i wasn' sure who had more whiskers, grandma or grandpa.

Tanya said...

Must be something cosmic that's pressing the memories out of all of us this week.

Your grandad sounds like a guy I'd like to have a cup of coffee with.

And I agree that those 3 surviving veterans should be given something NOW while they are alive to enjoy it. After all, when you're dead, you're gone and what's there to enjoy about a funeral?

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