(Note: My father died Valentine's Day 2012 at 88. This is what I wrote about him soon after.)

     I almost lost it. Just the one time.
     It was when the trumpeter blew "The Last Post", the traditional bugle call that marks the end of the military day and which is now played during Remembrance services. But he wouldn't have approved if I had, and neither would I.  
     Instead, standing in the silence before "The Rouse" sang out, I stared at the table with his urn draped by the Maple Leaf flag, remembering how once he had opposed its replacing the Union Jack and the Canadian Red Ensign under which he'd grown up and later went to war.
     Opposed, that is, until he and Mum were on vacation in Bermuda and saw it flying, for the first time, over a Canadian government building in a foreign country. It suddenly became a non-issue.
     Nearby were two other tables filled with mementos: putter, golf cap, photos, including one of him riding his horse along a stream bed during a hunt. He was dressed to the nines in his pinks, black helmet, tan pants and tall riding boots. I think I took it; it certainly looked like my work. But maybe not. I wasn't around much then.

                                                        * * *

     The end had come surprisingly fast. On the Monday, I'd driven down to see him in the palliative care wing of the veterans' hospital. He was happily inhabiting a room with a wonderful view of the city, surrounded by some items he'd asked for and cheerfully ignoring the growing pain of pancreatic cancer.
     In clear line of vision were a portrait of Mum, another of him in uniform prior to heading overseas and a cartoon by a friend of mine commemorating the 50th anniversary of VE Day. I call it a cartoon, but it's really a piece of simple evocative art: Two old soldiers in berets and blazers in Normandy, one saying, "Well, I guess we just did our bit". Underneath is the caption "You Saved The World". Quite so.
     The last thing he said to me as we shook hands, was, "Drive safely, Son." I allowed as how I always drive safely -- it's the other morons' driving I worry about. And then I left, saying over my shoulder, "See you soon."

                                                       * * *

     It wasn't to be.
     That evening, he was still in high spirits, calling an old neighbour to wish her happy birthday, then a florist to have a bouquet sent to his latest lady friend for Valentine's Day. A while later, a nurse brought him his favourite nightcap -- a potent mixture of scotch and Drambuie called a "rusty nail". And then he dropped off to sleep.
     He went into cardiac arrest early in the morning, with my brother and sister-in-law getting there in time to hold his hand when he crossed the bar at 6:30.
     I got the call about 7 a.m., by which time Red and I had uncharacteristically been awake for half an hour. She was lying in bed, restless. I was on the lower level, watching the news and occasionally looking out the window and down the ravine.
     It was snowing. Of course it was snowing. How appropriate for hearing about the death of the old north woodsman.
                                                       * * *

     And it snowed at the cemetery too, a week later. Almost as if he'd planned it that way.
     The knot of people around the same grave we buried Mum in 17 years ago mostly huddled under umbrellas provided by the funeral home. I had my own -- I always carry one along with a green garbage bag and other foul weather gear. Another thing the onetime Boy Scout district commissioner always preached -- semper paratus.  
     Then down into the small hole went the earthly remains of a soldier of the King. It was over.
     I headed home to the Redhead, a two-hour trip that felt like eternity.

                                                     * * *

     That night, we watched the home movies from when they were young -- Dad, his sisters, his brother. The only person still living is the little girl who would become his sister-in-law years later.
     Included is footage of him on crutches getting off the troop train that finally brought him home in 1945. He'd been injured in a motorcycle crash late in May, just after the war in Europe ended, and they wanted to stretcher him off.
     "Get lost," -- or words to that effect -- he said. No way was he going to greet his family and future wife flat on his back after more than four years overseas.
     In fact, that was pretty much his way of going at things. That last day, he sat up on the edge of his bed.
     "Give me a hand getting to my chair," he said. I did ... but I had to catch him when he suddenly stumbled and nearly fell. For that breach of hospital protocol -- getting him up without an orderly present -- we were both roundly castigated by the staff.
     "Guess we annoyed them," he said a few minutes later, a wicked, unrepentant grin on his face.
     "Good," I said.

Views: 140

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on June 17, 2017 at 1:40pm

so very good

Comment by tr ig on June 17, 2017 at 3:43pm

B1 my friend, so poignant. He was cheerful and had his rusty nail. That's fabulous. Thinking of my old man now too. Well done here. 

Comment by alsoknownas on June 17, 2017 at 5:50pm

I learned the phrase "semper paratus" two days ago, touring a lighthouse, at a Coast Guard base in Oregon.

It's the hall mark of those who are prepared to sacrifice for others.

Great remembrance. 

Comment by JMac1949 Today on June 17, 2017 at 5:55pm

Damn, he must have looked like Errol Flynn in his hunting attire.  Great memory. R&L

Comment by Steel Breeze on June 18, 2017 at 6:08am


Comment by Boanerges on June 18, 2017 at 7:23am

Thanks, Jon, I appreciate that.

Yeah, he was a piece of work, Trig. Only really quit golfing, hunting and fishing after he had heart surgery. Even having three knee replacements didn't stop him.

AKA, I agree. Is there a story behind the lighthouse, the Coast Guard and you?

He was built more like a Hemingway, JMac, but he did have Flynn's wicked grin. Despite a knee that was held together with baling wire and screws, and a scar that was about eight inches long, he refused to limp (until the knee replacements started going south).

Thanks, Breeze.

Comment by koshersalaami on June 18, 2017 at 7:22pm

Great post

Comment by Boanerges on June 19, 2017 at 7:17am

And thank you too, Kosh.

Comment by Boanerges on June 24, 2017 at 7:05am

He'd probably have been embarrassed, to tell the truth, FM. We didn't get on very well when I was young (and stupid). And I agree about carrying our loved ones with us. I think it's a tradition in Mexico (and please correct me, someone, if I'm wrong) that one has three deaths -- the physical one, one when you're buried and the final one when no one alive remembers you. Until then....


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