Armistice Day

November 11th, 2010

How’s everybody settling in? Comfy? Still adjusting? It’s okay, change is hard for some. I understand. But if you haven’t already done so, I hope you’ll add my new address to your feed reader now. You can put your weight on this, trust me. I’m not going anywhere else for a long time.

And now, to introduce the next exciting regular feature on Planting Dandelions, a little something I like to call, “Thursdays!” On Thursdays…well, I blog about stuff. Like this:

That handsome soldier on the far left was Gunner Michael John Gayton, who served in World War II, in Italy, and the North Africa campaigns with the Carleton-York Regiment.

I never knew him, or much about his service. He died the year before I was born, and his relationship with my mother–his daughter–was complicated (there’s a wartime story there, but it’s not mine to tell). I grew up with a vague sense of him as a loud, gruff Irishman, hard drinking and hot tempered. Not like Poppy, the paternal grandfather I knew, who was a gentleman and a scholar.

My kids didn’t get to know either of their grandfathers, but they refer to them by the endearments they would have used if those men were still living: Pawpaw and Poppy. Mike wasn’t ever Poppy, or PawPaw, or Gramps. He was “Mike,” my mother’s word for him, the rare instance she spoke of him at all. I never really thought of him as related to me. I went happily along on my three good “grands” like a dog with a missing leg.

But on one day each year, there was an armistice, and Mike would become part of my family. Year in, year out, on November eleventh, my mother would walk us down to the town square for the Remembrance Day ceremonies, and she would reminisce about Mike with a daughter’s pride. She’d sing his favorite wartime songs, and tell us his raunchy wartime jokes, and I would stand behind the veterans, and feel like I had a second grandfather, and that these men were his brothers.

I notice my mom moving closer to Mike in recent years. That’s the amazing thing to me about relationships. Death doesn’t end them. They keep changing and growing. I know this from losing my dad. Our own complicated relationship (are there uncomplicated relationships between fathers and daughters?) continues to evolve.

As she claims her dad, I find I am gaining a grandfather. A Gramps? A Grandpa? For the first time, I am curious what I would have called him. For the first time, it occurs to me to wonder what I’ve received from this man who raised my mother.  Courage? Stubbornness? The ferocious temper it’s taken half a lifetime to tame?

I don’t know. I can’t say if I would have loved–or even liked–the man. But you don’t need to love someone, to show them honor . And you don’t have to have known them, to remember.

My grandfather.

Michael John Gayton, 1910-1968

No Responses to “Armistice Day”

  1. Beth says:

    “But you don’t need to love someone, to show them honor.” Amen.

  2. SmoovP says:

    One of the most beautiful lessons I ever got was from your lovely Grandmother.

    The first time I met her (she had to have been 70+ years old), we were making small talk and kind of tippy-toeing around all the drama of our early courtship.

    I asked her “How long were you married”.

    She replied “I’ve been married for 57 years now”.

    It was not the answer I was expecting. It took the top of my head off. She was STILL married to her husband, gone some 20 years.

  3. Dana F says:

    beautifully written
    Thanks for your words, Kyran

  4. Those old photographs are so haunting, aren’t they? Each one of them is an epic.

  5. lindsay says:

    I love this. Beautiful.

  6. Tena Laing says:

    Thanks for sharing about your Poppys by any name. The pictures are perfect. Having lost our first one ten years ago and the last one this year, we were blessed to have real and adult relationships with them along with the childhood memories. Today’s Remembrance Day ceremony at my school was so emotional; it always amazes me how we react to these tributes to people we didn’t know, but every year, there is it is, more moving than the last.

  7. marilee pittman says:

    through my tears thank you ! You have managed again to capture a feeling perfectly…

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