Thursday, 31 December 2009

Good Riddance

Out goes 2009. Good riddance to you; you've been nothing but a vulture tenant in my basement sponging food from the freezer and asking for more time on the rent. Get out. Get the fuck out, now.

I'm tired of you sucking the life from me, I'm tired of your pulling me down with you. You need to go somewhere where you can't hurt anyone else, you need to get out of my house and never venture another look in here again. Really, get the fuck out.

You've taken almost all of my dignity, my pride, whatever happiness I might have experienced had absolutely NOTHING to do with you. I had happy moments in spite of you. The times when I looked the other way for a few brief moments when you were out, to a place where one could be in a good mood for just a while, where birds flew high in the morning sun, where I smiled to my family and friends, where I enjoyed life, but then you came back. 2009 came back to burst that little happy bubble, and again, you caused me misery.

Since you arrived in our home:

• Kim couldn't find work.
• My father died.
• The economy completely tanked taking thousands of people's livelihood with it.
• The City of Windsor lost it's mind, almost creating a war between union and non-union supporters.
• Things at work got worse - I'm sure you had my boss over a few times talking about me.
• My favourite hockey team started playing like shit and didn't even make the playoffs.
• We lost even more troops in Afganistan, I'm sure you snickered when you heard that.
• Our politics got stupid - The government has no accountability, the opposition has no teeth, and they started legislating on things that shouldn't be bothered with instead of dealing with issues that will make you leave me in peace.
• You didn't let me run the Olympic Torch - instead my boss had it, I'm sure that's got something to do with his visits.
• There were some things that happened that we would have liked to have taken part in, such as the Red Bull Air Races, or the International Air Show, or Festival Epicure, Windsor Summer Fest, but NOOOO, you had to get in the way of everything! You sapped me and my family so we couldn't go. Again, get the fuck out.
• The reunion I helped plan tanked out. I blame you.
• Even my friends felt your attitude. You affected some of them so badly that you have no support with them either. We stand together against you.

I'm sure there's more reasons I hate you, there's more that went on around you to convince me to kick your lazy negative minded ass the hell out. You brought down everyone you came near. It's time for you to go.

Next year is already starting positive, a new tenant to take your place, he at least has given us rent in advance, all you did was take. Maybe we'll invite 2010 into our lives and become friends, unlike you, you energy sucking parasite. Maybe 2010 will give us motivation to stomp firmly on you and say to ourselves - Remember that jackass who took over the place? Remember that shit head who drained us and made us think that live really sucked? Well, you're that parasite. Good fucking bye.

Time to give your replacement a proper place in our lives. Time to welcome him into our home. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Christmas continued

I hope everyone had a nice Christmas, we're off to London today for Christmas Part Two. Off we go to Grandmother's house. Just a day trip, I look forward to seeing family I rarely get to visit with.

Merry Christmas, again.


Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Reason

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

May the peace of the season be with you and your family in the coming year.
Merry Christmas from the Wilsons

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Olympic Torch comes to Windsor

I took the kids tonight to see something that they will probably never see again, and we lucked out. Seeing as how I smashed my finger and it hurts like hell to type, here's some pics of the evening.

Before the torch came around, the bearer waiting was posing with people. I of course, jumped on the chance and shoved my daughter into the frey.

This is a keeper!

The Torch being handed off.

This is one of the bicycle escorts giving instructions to the bearer before he finishes his run. A motorcade followed the runners, buses, police, entertainment trucks to pump up the crowd, you name it. After each runner was done, they had their torches snuffed and got onto a bus full of other torch bearers.

A pic of the crowd at Festival Plaza on the riverfront. I got a kick out of the Greek flag among the see of red and white. You can make out the Renaissance Centre in Detroit in the background, and the stage events on the jumbotron.

We saw the torch twice tonight, we caught it on Huron Church Road, and then again downtown. We went to the west end just to go to Dollarama, and quickly realized we were on the torch route with only 10 minutes to wait! The torch went by us within about six feet.

Finally, I tried to get a close up of the Jumbotron, showing the cauldron being lit. It didn't turn out that well, but we were far back in a crowd of thousands. The MC said that this was the largest crowd they'd seen yet, which of course made the crowd erupt. I'm sure he'd used that line before.

So that's the history making event in Windsor tonight. I have more shots, I will upload them to Facebook. Too bad it was dark, but at least the flame itself - the reason we went, was well spotlighted.

Now, my finger hurts, so I'm done.

Anyone ever seen the flame before?

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Winter's Entrance

It snowed last night, finally. Not much, its only about a centimetre, but with a week till Christmas it looks nice. Hopefully it will stick around. I've been listening to my friends in Calgary go on about their 3 feet of snow and incredible cold - 40 below. A centimetre is really nothing - just dust. But here in Windsor where winter is normally an afterthought to the Canadian weather patterns, it's enough to make people drive like idiots and pull out the snowblowers. We're just not used to that kind of winter here. We'll get our pounding, but not until January or February.
In the meantime, Christmas is coming, We're all up this morning waiting on Kim's dad visiting - he normally comes down from London about a week before Christmas to take care of the kids and takes off again. He lives two hours away in London, so we don't see him as much as we'd like.

But he's coming, and that's the important thing. His visit starts our meandering for the season. Old friends we haven't seen in a long while, good friends we see all the time, it's even time to say a polite Merry Christmas to someone walking down the
street you don't know at all. We've been receiving Christmas cards too, and ours have been sent. The tree is up and decorated, the kids are off school for the holiday, and we've started our shopping - just started mind you. Still lots to do. I can't wait till the turkey is on the table. Lately Kim has been looking for all the old classic Christmas shows to play over and over for the kids - My personal favourite - Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, has already played a half dozen times now.

Christmas carols play in the background. Real ones, not songs based on getting wild African livestock, or people stuck in chimneys. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Vienna Boys Choir are awesome - Their music gives you goose bumps. I can't think of any other recordings that really bring home the message. Hippos just don't do it for me. Given that, I'm sitting here over my first coffee, in my housecoat, listening to Chuck Mangeone. Typical Saturday morning fare. My daughter just came down and asked if she could go play in the snow. I laughed when I glanced outside to see what it's actually doing out there - Maybe a centimetre and a half now, not much playing, but that's what we have, so she will make the best of it. To Kiki and Dave - when you post about shoveling your 3 feet of snow, remember to try to be a kid again, and make the best of it. Remember snow forts and snowball fights, remember building snow men and making snow angels.

My daughter won't have that here, and by Christmas it will probably be gone, so we'll just have to make the best of what we have, and say to all - Merry Christmas.


Thursday, 17 December 2009

I think Scotland knows we're here

Since dad passed away we've been looking for his family in Scotland, with no luck at all. I've sent a pile of emails to various places in and around Kilmarnock (his home town), trying to get a small bite on something that might be a lead to direct us to his living relatives. We know they're there, they have to be! Dad had a large family, and we have found that some of my aunts and uncles were alive until this past decade. Their descendants are all still in the same county. Given that every marriage and death record we have lists the same address for over 50 years, it's not a stretch to assume they don't move around much. Dad coming to Canada, and one going to Australia seem to be the exceptions.

Everything is a dead end. There are no online cemetery records, city directories, or any kind of property or tax lists, unless you pay for them. With limited funds, that's not an option. My sister Joanne did order some records of marriages, deaths and divorces, and that so far is our only lead. Albeit a good one. We've got something to go on with those, especially my father's first wife being granted a divorce from dad 3 years after he came to Canada on the grounds of abandantment. We know he came here in 1951 - we have the ship manifest. She divorced him in 1954. The manifest lists his next of kin as his wife in Scotland, at the same address listed on every other record we have. There's no doubt it's them.

I sent an email to the town newspaper - The Kilmarnock Standard, hoping to get a bite of anything. Last week I got it. It goes something like this...

From Frank Beattie
for Kilmarnock Standard

I'm afraid your email to our on-line editor seems to have been doing the

It seems to have fallen on me to respond.

It is not clear from your email which area of Scotland your father came
from. Before anyone can help it would be essntial to have as much basic
information as possible, starting with your father's name, occupation, date
of birth, places of residence etc.

I realise from your email that any information have may be suspect but you
have to make a start somewhere.

Given a name and occupation and approximate date, say 1948, it should be
possible through local street directories to find an address.
You do not say what age your father was in 1951. If he was old enough and
was not in a reserved ocupation, he would have served in the military
during World War II and his service records should be available.
Your own birth certificate will be of use in that parents names, ages,
occupations, and home address will be given.

You should be able to access all birth, death and marriage records for
Scotland from 1855 through the Burns Monument Centre, which just happens to
be in Kilmarnock. Contact them though

If you can provide me with enough basic information which would allow your
siblings, nephews, nieces or other relatives to recognise you or your
father, please get back in touch and I will put a request in the Kilmarnock
Standard (printed version). Our readers are very good and this sort of

Your brother - no name provided - may well be in the local phone book. What
could be simpler?

Best wishes, Frank Beattie

Now we have something. Now we have a direction. Now we have hope. This guy is willing to write a story about our plight in the paper. Now we have to figure it out.

We only have one shot at this, so we have to make it count. They will publish a story based on what we send them, how much detail is up to the paper. Working for a newspaper I'm aware of the restrictions of space, especially with human interest stories, they tend to get chopped for the regular news. So we have to be very precise and very brief. We have to write what we want to appear in the paper and hope they don't chop it up. We only get one shot to grab my relative's attention and prod them to respond to us.

We very well could be opening a can of worms here, but that's the chance we have to take. All we want is to know if we have cousins, aunts, uncles, or even a brother in Scotland. With our family being so small, we all crave knowing if there are more of us. Even if they are thousands of miles away.

So we'll write, and then we'll wait. Maybe Christmas will bring a gift that none of us could foreshadow. We'll get Scotland's attention.

Monday, 14 December 2009

@#!%*!? Christmas Lights

So we're starting the tree tonight, I of course have the enviable task of putting the lights up. I get this task because more than anything else, I can reach. However, before and of that happens I have to undo the damage done last year in my haste to get the light put away, I managed to tie 5 strands together. Imagine that 50 foot backyard extension cord that always gets tangled, 5 times over, with little lights every six inches that thoroughly prevent any sort of untagling effort.

So there I sit, in front of the tree, with one strand plugged in so I can see which one I'm working on at the time, with some of it wrapped around my head in an effort to keep the untangled bit straight.

Not a pretty sight. This of course, is when Kim decides to take pictures. I'm sure she'll post them soon. Just to add to the frustration, one of my favourite sets, the one that has a switch on it that allows you to vary the light pattern, has a short in it and I have to throw it out. That's usually the basis of the light show. It's toast. It's also 20 years old - my parents always had it on their tree. It doesn't owe me anything, but why couldn't I have found this out long before I start the tree? Now I have less lights, and they're all white. Oh well, onward.

Two more strands in I find that one of the strands has a burnt out light, so everything past that light won't work. Oh well, shove them into the tree, hook another strand to it and carry on. Half hour later, all (?) the lights work and it conveys what I wanted - a spike in my power bill. Christmas has arrived at Wilsonworld.

We're sorting out the rest of the mess. We have soooooo many decorations that we have to really pick and choose what to put out. We acquired all of mom and dad's stuff, and dad was known for going overboard. He was nuts with decorations, most of it tacky, but he put stuff everywhere. It's hard to decide what to get rid of when you grew up with it all. But we have to start somewhere. I'm listening to Kim in the next room with the kids give direction on what is to go where, of course the kids aren't really playing the game. Short attention span begats short temper.

Slowly we're reclaiming the floor while the house transforms into a holiday wonderland. It's amazing to see how much a few odds and ends of holiday lore, and appropriate music can change your mood. Now I'm prepped for the season, now I can go shopping! Now I can sit in quiet admiration for what this all means.

Now I can look forward to ripping the damn lights off the tree in early January and not have to deal with them until next December.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Blogger block

I should write something.
Something meaningful, inspirational, contemplational.
But I'm stuck.

Lately things have been going better around here, but frankly there's nothing to post about that has any real substance for anyone outside my family. Kim's working now, I'm still working (blah blah blah), Kid One is in high school and managing a social schedule, kid two is growing up everyday, and surprises me on a regular basis with her wit and intelligence. Blah blah blah.

Christmas is coming, and we're not ready. Same with thousands of others.
It's getting colder, maybe I should talk about the weather? Nah, that would just reinforce the Canadian stereotype. I may as well walk around the house with a toque and a beer.

I could write about local politics, or religion, or world events, but I grew up in the officer's mess where those subjects were personal and taboo in a social setting. Besides, there really isn't much to talk about, unless you want me to go on about the fact that the city has yet to compensate me or anyone else for having to take my own garbage to the dump this summer.

I could talk about my mid-life crisis; my efforts to bring back some dreams and make them something other than regrets. But then I'd sound like I'm whining, and that's a fairly quick way to alienate readers. Frankly, nobody cares!

I could write about our efforts to contact my dad's family in Scotland. But we've had no luck, so that's a short post. In case you're wondering, we sent off a slew of emails and have had no response. There, that was easy.

I could write about how we should all be better citizens and help our fellow man, the poor, the downtrodden, the infirm. But we've lived that the past year. I'm done with that for a while. Maybe later.

I could tell you who my favourite comedian is - but why?

I could write about fluff.

In the end, having nothing to go on about at any length isn't such a bad thing, It means that for the first time in a long time, life is cruising along. Maybe it's getting boring, but certainly still worth living. I've had enough excitement for a while, it's time to sit back and watch the clouds go by. It's time to enjoy what I've got. Time to play video games, clean house, talk to my family, reconnect with friends and contemplate my future. I'm sitting here in my housecoat with a coffee listening to Gordon Lightfoot on iTunes and enjoying the silence of a Sunday morning. I'm not thinking about the HST, or the aircraft loaded with weapons intercepted in Thailand, or Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or if the wind will finally take out the neighbour's tree.

I don't care today.

Today I will pour Kim a coffee when she wakes up, prod the kids to get breakfast and pick up after themselves, go to church, run to the optician to pick up the kid's new glasses, and go get a Christmas tree. (we won't decorate it until tomorrow, it has to settle first).

Ah, blissful complacency.
My blissful boring life.

Maybe tomorrow I'll do something noteworthy, but not today.

Have a great Sunday.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Winter on the way

So the mercury dropped to -8 tonight, and the wind blew in through the redneck door.


So Kim and I, being the resourceful folks that we are, decided to 'fix' it. Here is Kim, dressed like a Newfie, weatherproofing the redneck door. Try not to keep this image in your head too long. Come to think of it, I really should stop posting things about the redneck door.
It's slowly becoming all too true. We decided the first thing we're fixing in the Spring is this door, we will hire someone to replace it down to the framing. It's long overdue. But in the meantime, a couple of blankets, and 2x4 and some well placed 2 1/2" spiral nails will do nicely.

We've starting prepping for Christmas around here, lights have gone up, and the tree comes this weekend. We started getting prepped at work too, our tree went up in the foyer and we had the windows painted. The girls went off to buy decoratings for the tree, which came in tubes similar to wrapping paper tubes. As I walked by the day it was going up, one of them asked me if I wanted to help. I was ridiculously busy at the time, and couldn't spare the time, I did however grab one of the tubes of bulbs and shoved the whole thing into the tree. With a smirk, I said, "there, how's that?"


Mary was short and to the point. I went back into my office, and printed one word on a piece of paper and taped it to my door, and closed it. Humbug.

Mary taped another sign over mine...

I'm not a scrooge, they just had bad timing! I'm eager for Christmas and the family oriented hope that it brings. After the past year we need that. Now that Kim is back to work, hopefully there's no fear about the season's approach. It will get better. And once we get a door almost back to normal.

Then what will I have to post about?


Friday, 4 December 2009

Strange Days Indeed

So Kim is back to work now, and things are weird.

For the past couple of years she has maintained a flexible schedule with school and unemployment, home in the evenings and weekends. It's been quite nice. But all good things must come to an end. Her new work shift is noon to 9pm, with weekend work as well. So again, we have to revisit the child care issue, my inept cooking skills, shuttling people around town to get everyone where they need to be, etc.

I have to retrain my self for evenings. No longer is she there to help prod the kids to do homework, or give us notes from school they neglect to inform us of, or pass along anything else the day brings. No longer is she there to help me make dinner, or eat it for that matter. No longer is she there to help me pick up the socks that land in front of the couch.

Side note: Last week a pair of socks landed between the couch and coffee table. I refused to acknowledge them, I hoped someone would pick them up. For three days they sat there. On the fourth day, imagine my surprise to find they multiplied. Someone actually dropped another pair of socks on top of them.

But I digress.

Last night the kids had optometrist appointments. I picked up the oldest from school at 4:45, rushed over to get youngest from the neighbours where she was hanging out by 5, and zipped off to the doctors for 5:15. We got out of there at 6:15, grabbed McDonalds from the drive-through and got home around 6:30. I can't remember the last time I got home from work that late. I guess I should get used to this being normal again. It's been a long time. We tidied up the house, did a load of dishes and settled in. After about an hour, I was off to get Kim from work. I finally found the couch at 9:30pm. None of this is all that uncommon, tiring, or anything to bitch about, I'm just not used to it yet.

Such is life in a two income house (feels nice to say that again!)

Kim is also adjusting. With this new schedule she doesn't get the time with the kids she is used to and enjoys. An hour at most before youngest goes to bed is not nearly enough. Last night she went to bed at 10:45 instead of her normal 9:30. They just wanted to talk. I can see much more of that in the future. The conversation turned to Christmas. Bug was broken hearted when she heard Kim would more than likely be working Christmas day. She's always had her mom home, or at least since she could remember. Change can cause hiccups sometimes. It's the price we have to pay for getting back on our feet again. At least Kim will be there to open gifts.

Growing up I watched my mother work every Christmas. She was a nurse, and on more than one occasion we had Christmas dinner in the hospital cafeteria. We just got used to it. This is just another adjustment. We will gladly take that over the alternative - still struggling to find out how to do Christmas at all on one income.

Change has it's pros and cons.

Stange days indeed. When I get home tonight, I will again see if the sock fairy arrived to bless my living room floor with her gifts. And I will again have an evening with my wife still at work. We will get used to it. I don't like the alternative.


Saturday, 21 November 2009

The year from hell

Changing seasons have finally brought about new hope for the future. The past year has been complete hell. I'd love to just forget about it, but I must keep it in my mind and learn from it. I must look back at the events and use them for strength and motivation to overcome what the future throws my way. The leaves changing are a metaphor to me - drop it and start over.

I will reflect back on the crappy memories with fondness and discourse at the same time. I overcame a shit storm, and for that I'm forever thankful. But why do shit storms have to happen at all?

There's a train of thought that those who cruise through live without ever encountering such events are living a dream, and eventually they will be caught unprepared, their dreams will quickly become nightmares. I like to believe this past year has simply prepared me for worse things, I just hope it doesn't happen again any time soon.

The year from hell began last September, and ended last week. A little over 13 months. I'm calling it over because I'm tired of it now, it can go back into the bottle it came out of. It's time to move forward.

Last week Kim finally landed a job. She's in the middle of two weeks of training, and so far she really enjoys it. It's not great money, (yet?) but it's enough to stop my worrying about where the next meal is coming from or how I will take care of my little one's birthday in a couple of weeks. She enjoys the job, and that's a good thing, on her first day I sat at work wondering how she was making out - wondering if she thought it was a huge disappointments, like so many false opportunities of late. I picked her up from her new office that night to see a beaming face and bright eyes. She didn't need to tell me anything. I knew. The year from hell was over.

Ironically, the year from start coincided with the start of this blog. My first post was October 25, 2008, about a month after Kim went back to school to finish her degree. A time of optimism and hope. After 16 years, she was going to finish school, and decide what to do with herself. She was in a crap job, and I was happy to see her get out of there. Actually, she asked to be reduced to part time to accommodate the classes, but they cut her so much it wasn't worth going in at all - so she quit. She devoted her time to school and excelled, and now has the degree. A good start.

Going back through my posts I found that November 14 was the start of it. To quote myself - "The shitty economy has hit our little world". Kim is in school, I'm the only income, my hours had been cut, and the economy tanked.

On November 22 I posted that I had entered the contest to run the Olympic torch. Update - I lost, my boss won. Another reason I hate him.

On December 11 Kim finished school. I wrote that I was eager to see her in cap and gown. If I'd only known then.

I spent Christmas day 2008 sick and recovering from oral surgery.

On January 15 the cable company accidentally shut us off for a week. The kids went nuts. If they'd only known. We still don't have it now.

On February 22 I did something about dreams and regrets. More foreshadowing.

On March 16 the back door jams fell apart, we didn't have the cash to fix it, so we invented the redneck door lock. It's still there.

On March 24 I wrote about how much fun it was dealing with Bell and our new office data connections. Ironically enough, that's the field Kim is now training for.

On April 4 I wrote about the tanking economy again, bad job stats, high unemployment, etc. We had become a statistic. Kim still had no job prospect. She continued school, but soon realized the courses she was taking had no bearing on her degree, so that stopped. We did a consolidation loan as we saw the writing on the wall.

On April 25 the City of Windsor went on strike. Well, most of it anyway, the worst of it would last 101 days, bring out the best and worst in people, and it's still causing ripples today. There were other things too, you'll have to read.

On May 27 the garbage strike got ugly.

On July 5, we did something about it.

On July 25, I lost my father. There was no blog, only pain. I posted on August 11 about renewal. Since then, we still haven't finished dealing with the fallout of his death. He lived with us, so his stuff is here. His life is here. Constant reminders of what we've lost. I think it's too soon to deal with the final issues, at least for me it is. We started, but with everything else going on, it's really difficult. I really miss him. I really miss the sounds of the house when he was in it. Everything now is too quiet and surreal.

August 18 brought the duldrums. Moods were changing for the worse.

August 21, it got worse yet.

A friend and I spent almost a year planning a reunion. On August 30, I wrote about how it didn't quite work out. A year of expectation and planning down the tubes.

September 5 - changing traditions, by force.

September also saw us meeting with a bankruptsy trustee for an info session. Kim has been out of work for a year at this point. We're hanging on, with some help. Dad passing also reduced our income - he paid us rent. We started draconian cost cutting, and the kids started getting used to things being 'different'. Luckily, we never followed through with the bankruptsy, but it was close. We kept putting it off in the hopes that it turned around. Also at this point, my brother also lost his job. Things sucked all round.

As a final kick in the ass, and a reminder about how bad things were getting, our neighbours across the street had their house seized by the sheriff. Evicted. It's a legal battle now, but imagine coming home from work to find your locks changed and you've been given 12 hours to clear out. Ick.

On October 19 Kim graduated from University. In our friend's living room. Thank God for friends.

November 11 was the first Remembrance Day without dad. Kim posted a wonderful tribute to him, but I chose a different path. I just couldn't write about him, it's still too soon.

So there you have it. In the grand scheme of things, we didn't lose our house, our car, our health, our future, if anything, we gained. We came back down to earth and realized that there is more to life than what we take for granted everyday. I have been humbled by the events of the past year, and I have lowered my expectations. I know take great pride in what we have, we survived a shitty year and want to strive to make it better from this point forward. There is so much more that I didn't write about, but no need for more details. To those who's lives around us have also been impacted by major events that I have not included here, this is strictly based on my posts over the past year. It certainly doesn't downplay the importance you play in our lives.

Next year will bring renewed life on our little world. These posts will be more positive and my expectations of the future have only one direction to go - up. Thank you to my friends and family who have helped us get through this tumultuous time in our lives.

The year from hell is over.

Let the light shine anew.


Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The guns fell silent

"Time check", the one said to his buddy.
"10 past, it's going to be a long one", came the reply.
The two men huddled in the trench, covered in filth. The sky was overcast and grey, the sun tried to peek through, hints of brightness eminating from between thick clouds. In the trench, hundreds of men sat waiting. All just as anxious. They
just waited.
A shell landed around the corner of of the angled trench knocking every one of them down. The sound was incredible, their ears ringing long after the initial explosion. Cries of help could be heard, men scrambled to get to the wounded. The dead could not be helped. A direct hit on the trench that had been their home. All that they knew for the past year. The massive crater it left was awe inspiring and terrifying. But they were used to it. Six dead came the count, at least they think six, two men not accounted for. They probably took the brunt of it. Only their names remain. The wounded were carried out on stretchers, like so many before them.
"Poor bastards almost made it", the one said calmly.

"Time now?"
"28 minutes. Not long now, we're almost there".
Rifle and machine gun fire could be heard over the berm. Out there, in no-man's land, the enemy was firing blindly into the morning mist. Hoping to catch anyone stupid enough to poke up their heads. Sometimes it worked. Our boys fired back.
Sticking their Enfields up over the top and firing blind. Futile yes, but at least it was something. It was too late to go over the top today. Too late now. Too many times had they done that, too many times had they gone through the wire in a vain attempt at some sort of courageous - or foolhardy, attempt at winning the war. Every time they knew the risk, and every time men died. Their bodies left there for the vultures, which made for easy target practice. They couldn't stand seeing them going at their buddies, and they couldn't get to their buddies. The dead were the lucky ones. The wounded sometimes died there because the medics were too easy to pick off. They had to wait til night fell to get the wounded back, in many cases the wait was fatal.
A rat scurried across the one man's boot.
"12 minutes". He had to yell out the time. The noise was unbearable. Shells were still landing near the wire, hopefully, none would land in the trench again today.
The other one chased the rat away with his knife, trying to get it, but it was too quick. He leaned back against the mud wall again and waited. Looking up, he saw the sun, trying to break through, it was almost there, but it was still obscured by clouds and smoke. It was hard to tell where the smoke ended and the clouds began.
Down the trench men were yelling. Could be orders, could be wounded, he didn't know. The voices were muffled over the noise of the battle. He also heard yelling in german; that's how close they were. He could here the other trench, across the deadly wasteland, not 100 yards away. When there was a lull in the shelling, he could hear
them. Intelligence men who spoke german were constantly up and down the trench listening, and writing things down.
"Now?, came an eager voice.
"Four minutes, as long as this watch is working right, it's in pretty rough shape".
They waited. Not talking to each other, they just sat there, looking around at their trench, their home. They held their rifles close and kept up on the sidewall so as not to slide into the mud. It rained the previous day and mud was everywhere. It was over the duck boards that were supposed to keep them dry. It didn't. Their boots were wet and they risked trenchfoot. One of the men had it really bad a few months back, but at least he got to go behind the lines for a few days, to the aid station and have a hot tea. Then when his feet got better he was thrown back into the fray.
"One minute!", the one yelled. He had to keep the time, the other one lost his watch. More gunfire, it sounded like it was getting worse. Machine guns opened up - it was one long continuous burst from a hundred guns - all pointed at them. Thank God for the trench. Another artillery shell exploded nearby. They couldn't tell if it was inside or on the wire - it was too far away. The sun finally managed to break through the smoke.
Then silence.
The shells stopped falling. The guns stopped. It was 11am. The guns fell silent.
The war was over. The armistice agreed upon by the warring nations across Europe started just as the sun opened the skies over Cambrai, Vimy, Ypres, Passchendaele, and a hundred other places in France. Both here and on the Eastern Front, in the air and at sea, in Turkey and in the middle east, the guns stopped.
The two men looked at each other and tried to smile. They tried to believe, but they couldn't. Not yet. It could have easily been broken at any time. One gunner in either trench could have fired off a shot and started it all over again. One man among hundreds of thousands could have negated the cease fire.
But nobody did.
The guns remained silent.

Nobody moved. Nobody yelled victorious, nobody stood up, nobody believed it. For many minutes there was total silence. No guns, no rain, no birds, no airplanes, no trucks, horses, ammo carts, officers yelling orders, nothing. total silence. Everyone in the trench took it in like a warm spring day. They filled themselves with the silence
and let it linger in their minds - something not heard in Europe for almost 5 years - nothing.
A bird overhead broke the silence. A soft call of a dove overhead. Over the devastated, shell blasted hell-hole of no-man's land. It's song audible to both trenches. Then it flew off, it's song only a whisper on the wind.
Slowly, men began to move, some shuffling along the wet duck boards, some, more brave, venturing a look up and over the sandbags. The first the men saw do this stuck his head for the briefest of looks and then popped back down. He didn't get shot.
The one man looked at the other, his buddy in this aweful place for the past 6 months. Then he stood up, and climbed the wall. He went over the top. He stood there on the top of the trench, facing no man's land and looked out. He didn't get shot. He half expected it, but it never came. He gently laid his Enfield down against a sandbag, and stood there looking across.
In the trench across the hell hole, another man stood up and did the same thing. A spiked helmet. Both men stood upon their trenches and stared at each other. After several minutes, the man in the Canadian uniform took the first step. Without a rifle, and to the taunting calls of his own mates, he stepped out across the shell pitted field. He stepped over what was left of the barbed wire, and began crossing the rift. The german did the same.
In both trenches heads popped up to see the sight. In both trenches men stared in wonder - more to see who would die first, but in wonder of the sight of two enemies crossing toward each other unarmed. The german had also dropped his Mauser.
After 10 minutes they stood staring at each other - face to face. The Canadian took off his helmet, dropped it on the ground and slowly raised a hand to the german. The german, looked at the outstretched hand, and responded in kind. They stood there, on top of a berm created by a howitzer shell and shook hands. No words were spoken. No words were necessary. The sun creeped out just a little more, and the dove came back. Both men looked up at the sight, still holding onto the handshake as if now their life depended on this on little act of brotherhood. Their eyes came back to each other and a mutual identification fell across them both. They knew it was over. The war to end all wars was over.
Out of both trenches, slowly at first, then in waves, men came up. Thousands of them. Dropping helmets and rifles, they slowly clambered out of their pits of mud, death and despair, and began mingling in the man-made disaster between their trenches. This hell on earth, where so many had died, was now alive with men, all victims of their government's call to arms. They were now men who had made it.
The moment lingered for what seemed like hours, then men slowly began to recede into their own trenches again. Officers began to call orders again, the noise slowly came back. All the noises associated with a war zone. Trucks, horses, men calling, everything, everything but the guns.
The Canadian soldier and the german soldier just stood there in the middle. They didn't move. They stared at each other. The german man, in very broken english finally uttered a few words.
"Peace, friend, peace now". Then he turned and walked away.

Here at Passchendaele, this man had witnessed the end of the war. It was 11am, the 11th day of November, 1918.

The war was over, the remembering had just begun.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.