penny in a castle

A digital chapbook.

Henry Macdonald

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Every year I stand. Under sodden, grey skies. Shivering in my winter boots and mittens.  I stand, listening in the silence as the clock begins to toll the eleventh hour.  Hundreds, maybe thousands stand around me.  All silent.  Suddenly a noise, a shock like thunder, the guns going off.  I tremble, imagining the fright of guns going off all around me, constantly, in the darkness.  A lone bugler starts to play the lonely notes, the notes that cry “To arms, to arms! Fight! Run! Come home. Come home. Come home.”  Then silence again. A breath. In the distance a slow rumble builds to a scream.  “Here they come,” the thousands whisper.  Overhead, the jets appear, racing low. One peels off, climbing into the sky.  For the fallen.

I think of my grandfather. Henry Macdonald.  Tool and die man.  Working at Mcdonnell Douglas. Working at De Havilland. Working at AV Roe.  Building planes he would never fly.  Could never fly even if he had the chance – being colour blind.

I cast my mind further back. To what must have been a terrible day.  The day his number came up for the draft.  Thirty years old – too old for a young man’s adventure and horror. He was a pacifist, not interested in war.  His wife was pregnant with a baby girl he wouldn’t see born.

He rarely talked about the war.  I rarely asked – I did not want to remind him of terrible times.  Occasionally he would tell stories – the funny ones, the stories of survival.   About being able to see camouflaged men hiding in the trees – his colour blindness for once working in his favour.  About his best friend, nick named Georgie Porgie,  who saved him by teaching him to memorize the numbers in the Ishihara test so he could become a signal man. About riding a motorcycle.

At the end, eighty-five and dying of cancer he refused to have treated, I spent a week visiting him and my grandmother. In theory I was taking care of them.  Both of them dying and me unawares.  My grandfather and I were standing in the kitchen, washing the dishes.  And he began to tell me stories he had been holding back.  In particular, about going overseas and being sea sick on the boat.  Imagine a boat, packed with men. Sick with fear. Sick with sea sickness. “They wouldn’t give us any medicine for it. They could have. There was no need for that.  They were just being bastards.”

He died not long after I visited.

I have a picture of him, standing awkwardly in the snow, wearing his uniform.  Facing the unknown with a smile.  I place it on the table each November 11. I light a candle beside it. I let it burn.  I will remember.


Written by pennyinacastle

November 12, 2012 at 3:53 am

Posted in Random thoughts

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