KEEP STORIES ALIVE
THE ACTIONS OF THE SELFLESS FEEL PARTICULARLY CLOSE TO HOME ON DAYS LIKE REMEMBRANCE DAY
When the guns fell silent a century ago tomorrow, Informer’s grandfather had been home from the Western Front for a year. The bullet taken from his shoulder was in a jar on the mantelpiece, the flesh and bone had healed, and he kept the long purple-red scar hidden from view.
In the years that I knew him, he never bothered much with Remembrance Day. The ache in his shoulder was reminder enough most days. Anyway, November in Tasmania kept him busy in the garden. November is for planting spuds, artichokes and tomatoes. Perfect for roses and tulips. Plus he loved the late spring sun, warming the ache away.
In the garden, he told me stories that I would one day gather into a larger story, a novel that did quite well.
One he told was about irony, concerning a young gardener who swapped his spade for a gun, then as soon as he arrived in France they swapped his gun for a spade and ordered him to start digging.
“I could have stayed home and done that, and no one would have shot me,” he said.
As for my father, his irony is that as much as he wanted to serve, he couldn’t.
Too young for World War Two and Korea and too old for Vietnam, not serving is his wound, his ache, and it has wracked his whole body his entire adult life.
Now in his 80s, Dad has lasted a decade longer than his father; my grandfather.
Perhaps his longevity is down to a lifetime breathing that pure Tasmanian air, drinking that heavenly Tasmanian beer, and never travelling beyond the place.
Lately though, Dad’s been on about visiting the Australian War Memorial in Canberra; a pilgrimage of sorts. I can hardly blame him. It’s a magnificent place and my brothers and I would love to take him.
Trouble is, travel is difficult for someone who has never left Tasmania and who copes poorly with disruption.
His age, too, poses challenges, as does his impatience. Then there is the memorial itself, because I wonder how much he will be able to bear.
My father is the toughest man I have ever known, which is curious because his father was the gentlest. But in recent years Dad has grown more emotional than at any time, especially regarding the sacrifice behind tomorrow’s remembrance. As much as I worry about what he is missing if we don’t go, I also fear that the war memorial will break him, and that the sheer weight of his emotion will be too much for his sons to hold. When he sees “Jacobson” on the Roll of Honour, what will he do? There’s a few of us there.
But if we do go, what I fear most is that it will provide the completion he so wants and needs, and that he will feel his life has been lived long enough to no longer oppose its ending.
Still, I’m being selfish and tomorrow, Remembrance Day, is about the actions of the selfless. And who am I to stand in the way of my father’s own sense of service?
So, we have decided. Not tomorrow, but another tomorrow not too far down the track, we are going.
It will be something to remember.
“LATELY THOUGH, DAD’S BEEN ON ABOUT VISITING THE AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL IN CANBERRA; A PILGRIMAGE OF SORTS.”