11.11.10

Lest We Forget

As most of you can tell by now...I'm funny. Yup, I'm friggin' hilarious. 

However, today is November 11th (Remembrance Day) and there isn't anything funny about that.

My grandfather (Papa) was a WWII veteran and Auschwitz survivor. He never spoke much about it -- who would? The fact that he managed to make it through a place that's sole purpose was to murder innocents is extraordinary. My mother visited the site when she was in Poland a few years ago and said that it was almost impossible to breathe, let alone speak while inside the buildings that had held so many. Buildings filled with rooms of shoes, clothes and hair. Despite the horror that my Papa saw on a day-to-day basis, he somehow managed to go on with his life. After the war, he got a degree in agriculture from Cambridge University and set off to northern Africa to share farming techniques. When my mother came along, he and my grandmother (Maman) moved to Canada, where he went on to have a very successful tree farm (as well as many other business investments).

My Papa but I had a unique opportunity to get to know each other when he moved in with us. I was in  high school and to say that there were conflicts would be an understatement. He was a hard-ass (an original Red Forman) and I was a 16-year-old smart-ass who knew everything. It wasn't exactly a Hallmark generations-become-best-friends time, as I was a fairly selfish brat and he was super anal about things I was careless about. Frankly, I'd always thought he cared more about my cat than he did about me. 

After I left home for university, I was eager to get away and start my own life. Moving 1,500kms away gave me a new perspective and I was able to see my Papa as a person. I was heavily involved in my university Student Union and attended many Remembrance Day events and other veteran-related things (there's a large military base nearby). The more I heard vets from WWII (and other wars, of course) the more empathy I had for my Papa. He survived a hell-on-earth and went on to become a father, grand-father and successful businessman in a foreign country. 

I'd make sure to visit whenever I'd come home to visit and we had a few pretty good talks. He was mildly seriously obsessed with tennis and was a serious whiz on the computer (I kid not -- he was the first person I knew who had a Mac). I'd walk into his room and there'd be tennis playing on his TV with scoreboards of other games in overlapping windows on his blue-backed-Mac. He kept his own winners' trees too. He loved Coffee Crisp chocolate bars and Turtles at Christmas. Despite his double-knee replacement surgery, he'd get on his stationary bike every morning to exercise. He wrote complaint letters about everything and instilled my love for comped items that arrived by mail. He also put away enough money so my brother and I could attend any university of our choice. Our relationship improved dramatically in his last few years and I'm grateful for it as he passed away while I was still in undergrad. 

I finished my first degree and went onto a Masters and finally to college for practical counseling training. It was in college that my view on my Papa shifted again. Post-traumatic stress wasn't acknlowledged back then and I'm fairly certain he didn't privately participate in counseling. I was in therapy forever as a teen and that was for random-teen-crap. I can't imagine how my Papa would have been able to move past seeing the atrocious things he was witness to so obviously his lens of the world invariably changed. It started to make sense to me why he was so hard on me. He'd lived through an awful time but had moved on with hard work and determination. Watching me yak on the phone while spending hours painting my nails must have looked like a frivolous waste of time when I could have been studying or doing something productive. 

I know now that he was proud of me and each year I seem to gain more insight to the man he was when he wasn't "my Papa." Although I have a long life yet, I'm psyched that I'll get to hang out with him again, eating fried rice and watching Wimbledon from the best seats in the house. Hey, since it's Heaven, we'll probably get to play a game or two ourselves. 

Love you Papa. 

Today, I remember. 

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