Lavender, for remembrance

11 11 2007

It’s that other significant day in November, the one that’s not to do with horses.

All four of my grandparents were involved in WWII. Three of them were in the armed forces, and the other one had her country bombed and then occupied during it. Today I’m thinking about the Jiich, who would never have put up with being called the Jiich while he was alive.

Jiichama was a tough old man. Last week would have been his 90th birthday. He was a Rat of Tobruk, and he was in Japan as part of BCOF. I never knew him as anything but white-haired and gruff. At his funeral I spoke of how as little kids, we were always scared of him. You never knew when you were going to get in trouble for drinking standing up, brushing your hair at the table or generally being a bad-mannered child. I also spoke of how as I got older, I began to appreciate the fierce love and devotion he had to us, his family, and the strength of his determination, something he passed on to my mother in spades.

The summer I turned nineteen I stayed with my grandparents, in between uni years. That summer, we pretty much hung out, did the gardening, swam in the pool, walked the dog. I think that was when he stopped seeing me as a younger version of my mother. In the mornings, when the Baach was out visiting friends or shopping, we’d take a break from our respective tasks and have a cup of tea. At first we were very awkward, a gangly teenager, a taciturn grandfather and their scotch finger biscuits. A lot of slow, shy conversation about the weather and the tomatoes. But after a while we got more comfortable, with the talk and with the silences. He told me little snippets about my mum as a child. We shared looks when the tornado that is the Baach whirled in and told us what our plans for the rest of the day were. He even made up excuses to get me out of going shopping once or twice.

One thing he never talked about was the war. I never once heard him mention it in any context apart from how he met the Baach. To be fair, I never asked about it. Part of me wishes I had, so I could know more about him. I don’t know that he would have told me much, though. He definitely didn’t think war was a good thing, and there was no misty-eyed reminiscing about his time in the trenches.

However much I disagree with the reasons for wars past and present, it doesn’t take away from the sacrifices people made and are making. On Remembrance Day I think about Jiichama’s determination and his stoicism. How he went to war and killed people because they were the enemy, and walled those memories up so they didn’t come out of his mouth. So I don’t know what it was like or what it did to him. Whether the war forged an ordinary strength into this iron will, or whether it was already there.

I also think about his generosity of spirit. How he came home with an enemy bride, and they built this tight-knit family of four children and ten grandchildren. The K-family vortex. It’s a package deal; others don’t get involved with one person without the whole rest of the family coming along too. He loved them all fiercely, and he showed that love by making sure they would grow up to be strong, good people, because he believed that’s what people need to be. Some of them have his eyes, and all of them have, to varying degrees, both generosity and complete mule-headed stubbornness as a personality trait.




2 responses

11 11 2007
Saturday Night Fiver

My grandfather was a Rat of Tobruk. He died a few days before I was born, but in that – believe me – there is a relationship of unique strength.

13 11 2007

And he used to get the meatworkers who abused his family to form a queue every Friday arvo and took them on one at a time. Not that he ever told that story.A special man who should be remembered.There wasn’t a lot of give in him. We got on well – after a while. No instant trust and acceptance there. Outsiders had to earn it.

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