My Grandfather was fifteen when the war broke out. When it ended he was a veteran of D-Day and the liberation of Belgium and the Netherlands, and less than twenty years old.
My Grandfather dropped out of school after grade eight, because his parents could only pay for the secondary education of one child. So he worked in the woods, cutting lumber with a hand saw and a team of horses. After the war he went to Briarcrest Bible College. They said as long as he had a high school diploma when he graduated they’d let him study for a degree. By the end of three years he had completed a three-year degree and four years of high school, while simultaneously working full-time.
My Grandfather spoke seven languages. I once came upon him reading in preparation for bible study, reading the recommended “The Message” paraphrase, and then going over it in Greek.
My grandparents were married in the summer of 1949. This year they would have celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary.
My grandparents went to Africa as missionaries. First to Portugal for six months to learn the language, then they sailed to Angola. There was no dock which could take the ship they came in on, so they threw everything overboard and waited for it to float in on the tide. They drove to the end of the road, and then walked into the jungle for another eight hours, carrying their belongings and my aunt Sharon, who was six months old. Talking drums sent the message ahead; “The missionaries are coming.”
My grandfather signed up for the air force as a tail gunner. The mortality rate for tail gunners was so high that the USSR assigned the position to penal battalions– you were not expected to come back from that job. My grandfather had no lack of courage. But he did have poor depth perception, and he was ground crew instead. He said the most terrifying night of his life was the last night in Angola. He, my grandmother and my aunt crouched under a window frame while rebels fired through the window over their heads.
They went back to Canada long enough to raise funds for the passage, and then they went back. My grandfather went ahead to the Belgian Congo, across the border from Angola. My grandmother had my dad and then brought the children to join him. My grandfather build a trade college, a hospital, and a seminary, so that the refugees who were walking through the jungle away from Angola could make new lives in a new country. He taught at the trade college and distributed seed for the UN, while my grandmother taught an elementary school.
My grandfather had dementia, and his funeral was yesterday. I was not able to attend.
We knew it was coming, and we knew that his body was failing for some days before. I keep finding myself doing small, repudiative and analytic tasks– like making lists. (That would be the explanation both for this post and the ones I’ve put up in the last week.) I had a longer posts prepared wherein I blathered about my reaction, but this blog post isn’t about me. It’s about my grandfather.
It’s about my hard-working, ferociously intelligent, taciturn, faithful, dedicated, practical grandfather. My grandfather could work you into the ground right up into his eighties. My grandfather built his own house when he retired. My grandfather lived through the depression and had a related lack of trust in banks. My grandfather told me that “sincere” came from sine cera— “without wax,” to indicate that a thing was true all the way down. It was a word with roots in Latin and Portuguese and woodworking.
When my little brother was dying, my father came up with the tradition of saying “see you tomorrow,” with the belief that we would meet again. For some of us it just might take longer to get through the day. So to my grandfather, who I love, and who I barely know, and who I am proud to think I am even a little bit like, even if it is only that I don’t talk much in the morning and also love etymology, see you tomorrow.
See you tomorrow. I’ll have a lot to tell you.