Lest We Forget

poppy fields

Last year on Remembrance Day my daughter asked me if we had anybody in our family who had fought in the war.  My response?

“Ummmmm ya sure.  Quiet, the ceremony is starting.”

Truth be told I felt really ashamed that I didn’t know what to tell her.  I knew that both of my grandfathers had served but that was about it.  No details, no dates, no stories of bravery.  I made a promise to myself to be better educated this year.

World War I lasted just over four years.  From July 1914 to November 1918.  Both of my grandfathers were in their late teens.  About the same age that my son is now.  I can’t even imagine.

I can’t say that I really knew either or my grandfathers.  My parents moved to Canada when they were in their twenties and eventually chose to settle in British Columbia.  As a result, I didn’t have a chance to get to know any of my grandparents as I would have liked to.

Arthur Hamilton, my dad’s father, was called Pop.  I met him maybe three or four times for very short periods when I was young.  What I do remember about him was his energy.  Much like my dad’s, it was boundless.  He and Mop, my grandmother, spent many years living in India (where my father was born) and he was a forester who loved hiking, fishing and trapping small animals.  Don’t ask.

pop

Pop was nineteen when had been in the Territorial Army for about a year.  He was injured for the first time while riding dispatch for the 8th Battalion.  The bullet that ended up in his thigh was still there when he passed away.  After he recovered he served a year in Suez and then volunteered for a tank corps. In 1918 he was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in leading his tank battalion to a battle by walking ahead of them on a foggy dark night.

Edward Brockman, my mom’s dad, was called Poppa.  He never came to Canada and I only visited England twice while he was alive. I don’t even remember talking to him.  From what my mom has told me he was very much a “children should be seen and not heard” kind of guy.  He was a well-respected orthopedic surgeon who was, to put it lightly, quite stern.  Oh, how am I kidding, he scared the crap out of me as he stood by the fireplace in the library and looked over his spectacles at us.

poppa

My Poppa was at Cambridge studying medicine when the war broke out.  He was drafted into the Royal Navy as a midshipman as he hadn’t competed his studies to be a licensed doctor in the service.  My mom’s not clear on what type of ship he was in or where it was but she knows that at some point a shop close to them was hit and he witnessed people struggling in the burning water.

I asked my mom if she had any more details about her father’s service and she said that many servicemen didn’t want to talk about their experiences.

“We just have to imagine what hell they went through and remember what they did for our country to make it what it is today”

So now I have something to tell my daughter on Wednesday as we thank the men and women who served.

The Best Thing in Life is learning YOUR history.  Talk to your parents or your grand parents.  Go to the library.  Do whatever you need to do to learn what your ancestors did to ensure your freedom.

LEST WE FORGET

TBT – A Place of My Own

In the second installment of my Throw Back Thursday endeavor I chose a picture of my son sitting on the stairs in the townhouse we lived in for five years. It’s not the only picture of that time, or of that place, but somehow it always takes me back there.

everett on the stairs

When my son was three months old, I left my husband. I lived with my parents for six months but the reality was that I needed to start over and that meant finding my own place. With the help of a real estate agent I looked at, what seemed like, hundreds of apartments and condos on the North Shore of Vancouver. I loved this place as soon as I walked in. It was roomy and bright and just felt good. My son did not have such a great first impression. As we were leaving I had sat him down on the first step going up from the foyer. I was standing in front of him while I put my shoes on but somehow he worked his way around my legs and fell head first onto the tiled entryway floor. He cried non stop for the next hour. I bought it anyway.

When we first moved in I had very little of anything. I had borrowed a crib and a change table from my sister. I had a mattress and a side table in my bedroom. The kitchen had a folding table, four folding chairs and a high chair. The living/dining room had a cardboard box with a borrowed black and white TV on top of it. A few weeks after I moved in my brother bought me a love seat for the living room. So basically I had a lot of empty space. With a nine month old boy just starting to pull up and walk it was actually great. Lots of play space and room for building block cities and hot wheels race tracks. Great when he was there. Empty and lonely when he was not.

Part of the reason that I chose this townhouse was how close it was to everything that I would need. I could walk to stores, restaurants and a great park just down the street. That first year was made so much better with green space to enjoy a couple of blocks away. On the weekends I would put my son in the stroller at nap time and he would have a nice long sleep while I got some much-needed exercise exploring the neighborhood. The townhouse also had a great patio off the living room that my son could crawl out onto and not get into any trouble. We planted flowers in a big half barrel that year and spent lots of time chasing each other around it and enjoying the sun.

Every wall in the townhouse was white when I first moved in. Boring yes, but also a blank canvas. Coming out of a very controlling relationship, I can remember how great it was to be able to decide on whatever I wanted to do with this blank canvas. I could put up any artwork I wanted to and paint walls any colour I wanted. Freedom. Exhilarating, heady freedom. I couldn’t afford a lot but I bought what I liked and hung it wherever I wanted to. Some of the art was even hung a bit crooked. I loved it. And I didn’t have to ask anybody what they thought. A very new concept for me. And I bought fresh flowers every week. Just because I wanted to.

It was a difficult time for sure but after a few months I met someone and eventually he helped my son and I fill up all the empty space in the townhouse. I no longer needed to buy flowers to cheer myself up and welcomed a second opinion on where to hang the artwork. The Best Thing in Life is new beginnings.

Pumpkin Patch

Divorce – Good, Bad or Ugly?

I’ve been through a divorce. Many of my friends have been through divorces. In fact, when I thought about it, I realized that quite a lot of my friends are divorced. Thirty five in fact. Some recently, some many years ago. “It’s an epidemic” one friend said. As all relationships are different, so are all divorces. So what makes one divorce good and easy and the other stressful and horrific? Or are they all just bad? Are divorces good, bad or ugly?

I left my ex-husband 17 years ago when our son was 3 months old. Mine fell into the “stressful and horrific” category. I was hurt after discovering that a past friend and co-worker was involved with my husband. When I think back, what I most remember was the overwhelming desire to broadcast to the world (preferably by a large, well lit billboard) that it was not my fault. For some reason it seemed really important to me. Was that normal? What is normal in a divorce? With so many questions running around in my head I felt the need to write.

I started by asking my thirty five friends to tell me what were the worst and the best things that happened during or as a result of divorce? The feedback was so interesting and passionate. Obviously this is something that gives rise to a fair amount of emotion. It’s not a simple question. There is so much more to it and clearly the women I know aren’t shy about giving me their opinions on how things went down.

For one friend the worst part was that her kids have been so affected by what had happened and they really had nothing to do with it. “They didn’t ask for this to happen”. They weren’t responsible yet they have to deal with the fall out. They are collateral damage so to speak. I think that is something that we would all agree on. Missing the kids was a big downside for a lot of people. Those long lonely weekends spent counting the hours until they came home from their dad’s. In hind site, it was a blessing that my son was so young when my divorce happened. By the time he was old enough to sort of understand what was going on, most of the bad behavior (not on my part of course) was over. Don’t get me wrong, we still don’t see eye to eye, but at least there are less issues to deal with than there were when he was little.

For those of us who have older kids graduating from high school or in university, I got the feeling that there was a huge sense of accomplishment. I think maybe divorced parents need to work a little harder in that department. Now before you get your knickers in a knot, I’m not saying that we are better parents than people who are still married. I’m just saying that we have more hoops to jump through in the parenting department. It can be hard enough to parent a teen within a solid marriage but having to do it with somebody you may not trust, respect or even like, can be a major challenge. To come through it with well adjusted kids is a major coup.

Some found that a year or two down the road they are better friends and closer to their exes than they ever were. This is not the norm I discovered. It is quite rare and, in of some circles, even frowned upon. Particularly if there was some sort of infidelity involved. That’s a whole different animal from just growing apart. Yet for some that’s really how things have worked out. “We’ve made mistakes, we’ve survived, we’ve moved on and we’ve discovered happiness.” Are they the lucky ones? One friend is even in the process of getting back together with her ex. Can you go back? I guess she’ll find out.

More often than not there is animosity, distrust and well, dislike. What’s odd, to me, is that even with these feeling raging inside us, our exes are still able to incite very strong reactions. Some might even say passionate. After a disagreement with her ex, one friend had a particularly strong reaction. “I got home and I stormed around the house and cried and yelled and when it was all over I was okay.” (Come on, we all did it at some point). We’ve yelled, sworn, cursed the day we ever walked down the aisle (in my defense I was foggy from cold medicine and Tylenol). You would think that we would know that it shouldn’t get to us. At some point you loved that person and perhaps it takes a while for the strength of those feeling to go away even if those feelings are anger.

I find it really funny that by far the best thing for most divorced women was that they now get to cook whatever they want. Or better yet, not cook at all. They felt free and independent. Able to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. (Midnight McDonalds run anyone). Don’t get me wrong, these women were not in relationships that were oppressive. These are strong, capable women. “Neither of us knew how stressed we both were until he left. It was a huge relief.” Perhaps we were working so hard on trying to make the marriage right, that when we finally gave in, the freedom was a sweet release.

As an old friend and I were catching up over a couple of large glasses of wine in a noisy restaurant, I realized how deeply she felt her divorce. “I felt a huge sense of failure”. And she wasn’t alone. Why is it that even though our actions had not directly caused the split (and by this I mean that we weren’t the ones that slept with our secretaries) we still felt immense failure. Even marriages that ended simply because they grew apart, incited feelings of failure. Of course it doesn’t help when people’s first reaction is “I’m sorry”. We are so programmed to believe that when we marry, we have to do everything in our powers to make it work. It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t really worthless and a bad wife, my ex-husband was just an asshole. Go figure.

Without question every friend I spoke to said that the best thing to come out of the divorce was the huge personal growth they experienced at the end of the day. Would they have felt this way if they hadn’t gone through a divorce? Hard to say. I know lots of emotionally evolved women who are happily married. I know this; the end of a marriage forces you to look not only at your relationship, but at yourself. You are on your own in the big wide world. Therapy, friends, family and wine were all cited as coping mechanisms in the first year. And while you may feel lonely at times, as one friend pointed out, you make it through. Sometimes it happens quickly and other times it takes years, but we’ve all made it and are, dare I say, better off?

As all people are different, so are all divorces. I’ve learnt that there are some common threads but, for the most part, we have all dealt with the end of a marriage in our own unique way. I for one, have learnt that nobody can make you happy but yourself. Others have discovered that they can love again. All have found a strength within them that they maybe didn’t know was there. Today I find happiness in the fact that I have been happily married to an amazing man for 13 years. They’re good, they’re bad and yes, they are ugly, but divorces happen. It’s what you do with them that can be The Best Thing in Your Life.