It was my Grandfather Jeremiah Jones’ first time in Wensdale, a little village at the tip of Cape Breton Island, where my family lived. I had only met him two or three times before, and that was only when I went to Halifax, where he shared a great big house with his wife and their nine children, one of which was my mother. At the time, he was the only one still living there, all alone since the war ended.
We were standing under the clock tower, near the train station. The big clock struck four o’clock and the sound bellowed through the town. “His train should be arriving any minute now,” my Dad said.
A gust of wind hit my face and grit blew in my eyes, as the train pulled in. Many people pushed their way onto the platform, looking for their friends and family. Finally, we spotted him at the top of the steps, hesitating with his cane.
“Over here Dad!,” said my Mother, waving.
Two engineers came to escort him down the stairs, one holding his arm, the other his bag. My Mom ran to help.
My Grandfather came towards me with his arms wide. “Christopher!” he said, giving me a big hug. “My, you have grown since I last saw you. We have lots to catch up on.”
“Grandpa!” I said, “I missed you.”
Grandpa hugged my mother and kissed her on the cheek. My Dad and Grandpa shook hands.
Grandpa opened his jacket pocket and pulled out some candies, he put them in my hand. “Here you go. One for every letter you sent me.”
I stuffed them in my pocket, popping a salt water taffy in my mouth. It tasted like maple syrup, my favorite. “Thanks Grandpa!” I said. I gave him a hug.
My Dad waved us over and mouthed the words “Come on.”
“Let’s go have some tea, shall we?” said Grandpa.
“Alright,” I agreed. I grabbed his bag and his hand, and we headed slowly back to my house, my Grandpa limping from the war injury he didn’t like to talk about.
Grandpa, my parents and I climbed the four steps to the porch and Mom unlocked the door. Our house is not very big. It has two floors and three bedrooms, one for me and one for my parents, leaving a guest room. It also has a small kitchen and a living room.
“While I prepare some tea, would you show Grandpa to his room?” Mom asked me as she flung her purple scarf over the hook.
“Sure thing Mom.” I said, while I hung up Grandpa’s coat for him. “Right this way!” I pointed him in the direction. I lugged his bag over my shoulder and led him upstairs.
“Here it is,” I said holding out my arms for dramatic effect. I pulled Grandpa’s bag on to the neatly made bed, similar to how you lift a heavy grocery bag on to the table. Dad must have made the bed yesterday after my friends and I were playing in here, pretending we were evil pirates and what not.
“Thank you Christopher,” Grandpa said cheerfully. “In the meantime why don’t you go downstairs and I will settle in.”
I sat at the kitchen table, reading my book, while the smell of peppermint brewed through the house. “Dad, your tea is ready,” my Mom called from the bottom of the stairs.
I closed my book. “249,” I whispered to myself. That always helps me remember the page number. I tucked my book in between two cook books and made my way to the living room.
Mom brought out a decorative tray. There was a matching teapot in the centre with four teacups stacked on top of each other next to it. There was also a bowl of biscuits. As quickly as I could I grabbed a shortbread biscuit, and nibbled on it quietly.
Grandpa made his way down the stairs and sat with a sigh.
“Grandpa tell me a story!” I pleaded, happily.
He was sitting in front of me in the old rocking chair with his legs crossed one over the other. “Oh Christopher.” he said leaning back against the cushion. “I have many stories, but the one I will tell you is by far the most important of all.
“Years ago I went to a recruitment centre to join the army. I had to lie about my age to get in, they weren’t looking for 50-year olds like myself. I had to leave my wife Ethel, and my nine children. I said my goodbyes and left, climbing on the army bus and they took me to the camp. For a year I did training, then I fought in World War I. I volunteered to attack the enemy position, managing to reach the machine gun nest, I was pinned down by a machine gun fire. I tossed a hand grenade and killed several soldiers releasing the threat. I carried the machine gun back across the battlefield to the Canadian lines, dropping it at my commanding officer’s feet. For my heroism I was reportedly recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal, which I never received,” he ended with a sigh.
We were all silent.
“Anyway, enough about the past. Now it is your turn to make change and encourage others to do the same,” said Grandpa, pulling out one of his old army badges and pinning it on my chest close to my heart. “Be brave, my little soldier.”
Six months after his visit, on November 23, 1950, he died from his injuries. But, even after I grew up, I never forgot the story he told me and I always wanted to be brave, to be his hero. In 2010, 60 years after our last visit, I finally convinced the government to give my Grandfather the award he deserved.