I always felt connected to my father’s father. He wore a demeanour absent of judgment or condemnation, the very same way a knight of old must have worn his armour, proud and impenetrable. When he held me in his gaze, I felt myself grow taller.
My father’s father was a quiet man who held stalwart ideas.
It is difficult for me to picture my tranquil and gentle grandfather operating heavy artillery in the First World War, but he did. Cloaked in youthful invulnerability, too young to join the war effort at 17, he lied about his age and entered boot camp. Twelve weeks later, alongside other young and patriotic men, he boarded a crowded troop carrier feeling the adventurous excitement of the era.
He was deployed overseas, sent to Dieppe to fight a beach battle on France’s north coast, followed by another glorious encounter in Italy. Following five years of service, grandfather returned home a quieter and more appreciative man, grateful for the little things that youthful years often overlook. When the Second World War rolled around, he re-enlisted.
Grandfather served his country and never felt the need to remind anyone with glorious war stories that I would have gladly listened to him recite. I often imagined what it would have felt like to have held his rifle and to have placed an imaginary enemy in its sights. Oh, the joy to have attached the bayonet, and to have tried on his uniform. I would have eagerly set his heavy steel helmet upon my head and struck off across the lawn hunting Nazis, but the Great Wars changed his measure of what made a man a man.
You see, he had returned to trench warfare where he struggled again to survive, knowing this time that he would be going to an earthy rest, all the while trying to part the pain that stole the song from his lips.
Now and again as I head out upon a wooded walking path, I listen for grandfather’s warbling trill. On those days when it arrives, I imagine that he has returned to share a moment or two, come to cheer me along my way, to remind me of his philosophy: the measure of a man is found in the memories he leaves behind. And I remind myself that so long as I draw breath, I have a duty to create kind and gentle memories of my own.
– excerpted from a letter titled Grandfather’s Philosophy by Jeremy J. Fry.