My Bampa died when I was about 9 years old. His was the first funeral I attended and it worried me for a long time afterwards. I wanted to know so much more about him and his past, but I was too young to have developed that relationship and now it was over. Much of what I do know of him comes from family gossip, notes on postcards and my own story making, based on photographs.
My Bampa was a soldier in World War Two and, from all accounts, he rarely spoke of this time. I find the stories that remain to be both fascinating and tragic. I wonder about the other men that feature in them and their family members who may be living. Do they know that we share a common past? Do they think about how, if things had turned out differently, we might not exist at all? The photographs that remain, betray little of the tragedy that was still to come. When a soldier and friend jumped on my bampa’s back in jest and was shot by enemy fire, no one was there to document the sadness of it. Any pictures of the fateful plane that my bampa was supposed to fly in are gone, as is the soldier that took my bampa’s place in a rush to return home. They were shot down and my bampa was left with the guilt and relief of being alive. It is no wonder that speaking of these times was not an eager pastime for him.
My Bampa in my memories betrays little of the traumas of war. Instead I remember the daily pleasures of an older man, and maybe this is the way he wanted it. He enjoyed his tea in a teacup with pink roses on it. He made a miniature gypsy caravan which we played with for many years. For a time, he made paintings of canals and village scenes in bright colours. I loved those pots of paint and bright red painted bricks. He loved to potter in the garden and would collect manure on our blackberry picking trips. It would horrify us to drive home in that stinky car. He watched the news every evening, despite not seeming to enjoy a moment of it, and would insist on our silence for the full hour. He would take us on rides in his chairlift, carrying us on his lap up the stairs. I don’t remember his voice but I remember his smell, of earth and wool and something else, perhaps just age.
My Bampa was one of many men who suffered in silence. They did not speak of what happened to them as young men. They allowed us to continue with our daily lives, remembering on this day, just once a year, all those who never made it back. I wish we could have spoken about it, but I feel that he would have continued to protect me from what he knew, even as I reached adulthood.
On this day I like to remember the little memories I have, of the life he fought to create.
I think this is what he would want.
So thank you Bampa for all we know you did and all the secrets you took with you.