We remember

A poignant story of war, loss and life anew

Howling winds shivered over the flat prairies of Saskatchewan seeking shelter alongside fire lit homesteads. In the distance, faint notes of a fiddlers dream could be heard with earthy concerns of what was to be.

It was 1939 and Canada had just proclaimed their involvement in the War. Those gentle and welcoming notes from the boy’s violin became background music to scenes of fear and the unknown. Families gathered to feel warmth and courage. A new era was unfolding over the prairies and over all the land.

Blankets of snow rested easily on the frozen ground while tufts of wheat peeked through shyly, searching for warmth and wondering what was happening.

In the winter moonlight, snow-laden clouds danced lazily as if they too heard the notes from afar. Notes from a well-worn violin that I still hear to this day.

He sat on the unevenly worn step and stared silently. His blue eyes held secrets of his hopes, fears and of a future unknown. Who was to know what true feelings lay behind the soft face of an innocent young man, especially one leaving home under these conditions?

It was a time of simpler things when days held long lazy moments for dreaming, for scheming and falling in love. But it was wartime and the times were changing. Familiar became unfamiliar. Soon a boy was to become a man of a far-off war prepared to call his name. His eyes held secrets of his hopes and fears of a future unknown. History was changing the lives of many and his was not to go untouched.

With excitement and questions, he bid farewell to another time, his family and a blue-eyed girl. A young girl who shared his dreams and was saddened at having him ripped from her life so suddenly and without guarantees that he would return. He promised to be back, not knowing that his life would change so drastically and forever.

Kissing his mother and father goodbye he must have wondered what the message was in their eyes. He tucked his violin under his arm, wrestled his sack to his shoulder but couldn’t look back. If a tear rolled away, no one knew.

The steam engine rattled and whistled, marking the beginning of a new life and new adventures. A picture of authority, so large and strong, the steam engine began its trip to a life unknown. Its whistle blew with authority calling the attention of all nearby. The boy’s family disappeared slowly into the distance as a new day began to appear on the horizon. This new day would see one million men and women called to serve between 1939 and the wars end in 1945.

Toronto was in sharp contrast to the prairie and must have painted a picture beyond belief for eyes so young. Just imagine how he must have felt looking up at buildings taller and stronger than he had ever seen. Without delay, the boy was suited like a man and a piece of history began to unfold. His large but boyish body stood tall in the uniform of the Canadian Navy, which from pictures and stories I knew he wore with pride. His life now would take him out upon cold oceans on a Corvette and submarine. How does a young man from small-town Saskatchewan make sense of it all? Or does he?

Like an unfriendly voice, combat cut into the dark skies and boys grew up quickly. This boy left Canada and saw action. His life on the Canadian ships brought him experiences he would never share — or never knew how to put into words but would never forget.

Despite the pride and desire to protect your country, it becomes a lonely challenge. Memories cut deep into your being with time to think of what may have been.

The war, taking more than it gave, ended and in 1945 and men and women arrived home to a confusing era. They were heroes and heroines who had defended the land, but they were not the same boys and girls that left. He was not the boy that waved goodbye and boarded the Iron Horse to cross the prairies so few years ago. He was not the same and his world was not the same. The prairies were far away now and his parents were gone.

Lost to him too was the blue eyes girl that he had loved as a teenager. The promise to return was not forgotten, but buried in a heart full of memories of war, of pain and loneliness. He was the same but different — strangers in their own country you could say. The war did not pick you up and then deposit you gently where it found you when it was over. The man settled in Ontario and grew older and wiser with experience. Never did I think he forgot what he has witnessed.

Forty-seven years later that same man returned to that once familiar homestead in Saskatchewan. It was vivid with love and the memories of a lifetime ago. The same smile that he gave to me for so many years would have spread across his weathered face and touched everyone.

His mother and father had long since gone, carrying with them the pride of a son. There under a large willow tree, he recognized the same blue-eyed girl who bid him farewell so many years ago. How many moments that first glance must have held. Her satin skin was older and her blonde hair grey, but he said her heart and laughter had not changed. They shared old dreams and put new words to their unfinished love song.

A love story was unfolding that would touch many hearts and cross many miles. They recognized their chance at a new life and grasped it with both hands, giving to us more than they thought to take. Somewhere a violin played softly and a winter wind shivered across the land. Together they were secure and warm in a new homestead.

Just when they looked forward to the birth of spring — the man died. I had shared a life with my dad and learned to play that violin he carried through the war with him, but never did he prepare me for his death. Never did I believe that time would put the pain in the proper corner of my heart so I could remember happier times.

But now I see the reasons that life goes on, despite those cold winds, and I see he must have taught me well.

I can see the joy of a love shared, and when the buds appear and the violin sings, I let myself think gently of him. He had a love that allowed him to fight for his country and still be gentle. I remember all he gave me and that special place a father and daughter hold in each other’s hearts. I see the smile that spread across his face to tell me I was home. The travelled violin is now mine and it plays on in the hands of his granddaughter. How I wish he could hear her play, perhaps he does.

How I wish that he and all the Canadian men and women that served at the hands of war could know how proud we are. How thankful are we for their bravery.

We remember.

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