Two and a half years ago I lost my grandfather. He was a man of the 1940s- a WWII veteran always full of stories, spirit and love. But there were some things he always held close to him regarding the war – the darker side – which he never really disclosed to any of us. But we knew it was there.
This mornings dawn service in commemoration of Australian soldiers who give their lives for the freedom of our country brought back a lot of memories for me about Gramps. I cried as I watched the servicemen march down the street towards the memorial, remembering the many times I had done so holding his hand as a child. I cried for the lives lost at Gallipoli, on the Western Front, on the battle grounds of Europe, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, East Timor and so many other spots in the world where our brave war heroes fought and continue to fight for our freedom and lives. And I cried for the way my community draws together every year to commemorate and honour these heroic men and women of times past and present. It’s wonderful to see such spirit is not only still alive, but growing every day.
So in memory of my wonderful grandfather; a Stoker in the Royal Australian Navy; I wanted to share this piece I wrote. It was something I wrote up based on a photograph taken a year before we lost Gramps of my brother and I with our grandparents. Originally I started it for a creative assessment for university, and ended up putting it into a book of stories, photos and cherished memories for my grandmother who is still with us.
So Gramps, this one is for you today.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Lest We Forget xxx
BANG. What in the world was that? I wondered looking around. Laughter emitted from a group of people over by the deck, but the sound had already sent me deep into the recess of memories. Even 60 years on I can still recall things like they were yesterday…
The incessant pop of gunshots reign around me as I crouch on the sea-soaked deck next to my comrades. The adrenaline pumps wildly through my system, I feel as though my heart is about to burst out of my chest it’s beating so hard. My clothes are stuck to me from the mixture of sweat and seawater that soaks my navy uniform.
It’s getting hard to protect myself from the flying chips of wood, scraps of metal and flecks of blood that adorn the air with every bullet fired at us. I just want to, no, need to stay alive. Crouching behind a barrier, I heave and struggle for one breath to make fill my lungs. I close my eyes to try and calm myself in the midst of battle and disarray, falling into a lulled sense of respite as my shocked senses provide both silence and darkness. The most wonderful image swims before me, a woman of tremendous beauty, my own personal radiating beacon of hope… She is what matters, she is why I need to make it through this. She is the reason I will continue to fight with everything I have in me until she is once again protected and held tightly in my arms when I am finally home.
But I am home. I am with her. And our amazing children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. They make me happier than I’ve ever felt in my life. I just wish they could erase the horrible memories, take away the night terrors, erase the stain that has tainted my life. But all I can do is smile and hide the pain. One day it will be erased.
A memory lasts a lifetime. But isn’t that the purpose of a photo, to preserve a memory? Beneath the smiles, beneath the lines of age, wisdom and experience lurks many memories no photograph would wish to capture and immortalise.
If I’d just had more time I could have figured it out. The tank was the key- its bulk hammering across the field, almost majestic as it raised to shoot. It was perfect, I had him lined up through the porthole, I was finally going to have my revenge. It makes my heart beat faster even now to imagine the arch of blood splatter that comes from the perfect hit, the cry of pain, the finality of death. For at least a moment until he was resurrected.
Come on everybody, get the hell out of my house so I can get back to my game!
Some memories cannot be captured, yet they resonate so wholly and all encompassing throughout a life. The most gruesome, horrible and gut wrenching ones however are more generally absent from the family album of precious memories; they fail to pervade the memories of others. Innocence sometimes, can be a blessing. But isn’t that the essence of this photo – to preserve a memory of familial bliss untainted by the throes of reality and life?
The silk swished against my legs softly with every step I took, the lace around my bosom itched like crazy though I dared not scratch it for fear of ruining the perfect image my mother had helped me create of myself. Nervously I fluffed my hair and adjusted my veil. My father startled me from my thoughts as he gently took my arm, smiled down at me with such love and affection crinkling his weary eyes. It was time to finally marry the man of my dreams, my war hero, the love of my life.
A beautiful memory, a wonderful day. How lucky I am to still have him here, how wonderful it is to see his eyes crinkle and smile the same way it did 65 years ago. How lucky am I right now to have my whole family around me, it overwhelms me almost to tears to see how incredible my children, my grandchildren have turned out. No photograph anyone could ever take could ever capture the perfect essence of this moment right now, of the overwhelming joy and nostalgia flooding my senses right now.
Sometimes a photo can convey a memory worth keeping and holding onto.
I can’t contain it, I can’t believe how happy I am right now, am positively jumping out of my skin, cannot wipe this stupid grin off my face! It has been so long since my grandparents were here, so long since I’ve even seen them, especially Gramps. How wonderful it is to see him smiling, unadorned with IV’s, tubes, monitors, machines I don’t even think I want to attempt to understand. He looks the way I’ve always remembered him- happy. I’m a bit worried about Grammy though, what a fake smile, I worry so much about her with Gramps being so sick lately. My family really is so important to me. I couldn’t stand it if anything happens to either of them. Ever. I wish this moment would last forever, a moment of pure and utter bliss.
And it has- framed on my wall in loving memory of a wonderful grandfather.