My grandfather came from a big family. They were a very loving family, from all accounts.
The sisters were older and were charged with helping their mother in the kitchen. They would chase the younger boys out of the kitchen whenever the smell of freshly baked cookies wafted through the house. The boys loved to tease each other and their sisters, and so they were often running up the back stairs out of the kitchen, with extra cookies stuffed in their pockets. The sisters would barricade them, one at the back staircase, one at the front... and the boys would have to surrender their cookies.
They were a family that sang together. The boys put on shows around the community when they were older. There were many evenings spent at home with the children gathered around the piano.
When my grandfather's brother, Jack, went off to fight in World War II, it left a rather big hole in their lives, even though most of the children were grown and starting families of their own at that point.
I remember distinctly my grandfather telling me the story of receiving news of his brother's death. There are details of the story that I don't know, but my imagination has filled them in over the years.
My grandfather, Donald, was in town when the word came. He ran home with the notice. I've always imagined it being summer in his story, although he never told me that. Summer in Woodstock can be extremely hot (for Canadian standards) and I imagine him running up the front steps of the house and the screen door slamming behind him.
He would have known that the telegram wasn't good news. I imagine that he paused before entering the kitchen where his parents were sitting. Was it lunch time? I don't know, but I've always pictured his mother in front of the stove, putting on the kettle for tea; his father at the table, his plate pushed aside, maybe looking at the paper.
They would have looked up when he arrived in the doorway, wondering why he was there. It might have taken them a moment to realize that he was holding the notice.
I've always imagined this small piece of paper that told them the news. Grampy would have held it firmly in his shaking hand. I can't imagine that my grandfather had to say the words out loud or that he could have brought himself to say the words out loud. I imagine that he had tears in his eyes when he handed the paper to his father.
This part I do know. I know that when they read the news, that his mother threw her apron over her face and cried and that his father sat there and didn't say a word. Not a single word. That piece of paper, sitting on the table, devastating their family.
I imagine that my great-grandfather was in complete shock. By all accounts Jack had been much beloved by the entire family. They were so proud of him and thought of him daily, across the ocean, fighting for their country, fighting for his family.
My grandfather attended the ceremony at the cenotaph in Woodstock, New Brunswick for as many years as he was able. I remember going with him, my grandmother, my aunt, my cousins and my mother when I was a child. It was cold and there were flakes of snow in the air. My grandfather wore his best coat and his Sunday hat. And when I looked at him during the silence, his eyes were rimmed with tears. It had been about 40 years since his brother had been killed in World War II, but I'm sure that memories of his beloved brother Jack were still fresh in his mind.
My grandfather, Donald, passed away in the spring. I miss him horribly. He was a good man. He made me laugh and he teased me with as much zeal as I'm sure he and his siblings teased and carried on with each other.
This year, I will take off my apron, pull out my best coat and walk down to the cenotaph to join the crowd of people who also remember.
I'll be there for Jack. And for Grampy.