Remembrance Day Tale
Mother Nature did her part nicely. Vancouver had absorbed an almost biblical 40 days and nights of constant rainfall but the skies dried up and brightened to an iridescent shade of charcoal. It provided the colour accent to match the mood of the crowd at the cenotaph. Another Remembrance Day had been recognized and and those gathered were solemn, reflective and thankful. An almost pleasant day was a blessing to the veterans.
Near the centre of Vancouver, there is a very large graveyard that has been in constant use since the early days of the city. With Fraser Street providing its eastern border, it stretches north and south between 31st and 43rd Avenues. Within its boundaries lie thousands of people, some recognized with 10 foot tall tombstones and others with just a small piece of stamped concrete to show that someone is buried in that spot. The lay of the land is undulating while still climbing the rise up from False Creek. The views of the North Shore Mountains and downtown are stunning. If being buried in a graveyard is where you want to be placed after you have finished living this life, Fraserview Cemetery is as nice a place as you could want.
Unbeknownst to most people of this city, and something I discovered on Remembrance Day 2015, is that there is a veterans section in the quiet, northwest corner of the graveyard. A small cenotaph, a memorial and a path dissect the hundreds upon hundreds of graves. All are marked only with a plaque in the ground giving name, rank and date of birth and death. Sometimes the unit or branch served with is also provided. There are no tombstones making one resting place stand out from the others. The night before, all the veterans grave sites are marked with a small Canadian flag by local youth groups. This area of the graveyard is where we now go after attending the official ceremonies. What better place to reflect on our luck and fortune in life than to be where people are buried that died for you/us/me to have that opportunity for freedom.
While we mourn for those that have fallen, we know nothing of their stories. We walk through the graveyard, reading grave markers, wondering about the fallen ones families, their loves and lives. Noticing a gravestone with a date of death of Christmas Day or New Years Day makes you realize that war and carnage did not take holidays then as it so stubbornly refuses to do now. New graves are being dug elsewhere in the world while we introspectively wander amongst the fallen from past wars in this quiet city oasis.
The sky begins to darken and we gather our things and prepare to mount our bikes and ride homeward. A lone car parks along the inner roadway of the cemetery adjacent to the veterans section and and an elderly couple get out. She holds his arm firmly while they navigate carefully through the grave sites searching for one in particular. They come to a stop, then the gentleman squats carefully and wipes the fallen leaves from a certain grave, one amongst hundreds getting some personal remembrance on this day. I drift over and respectfully ask them if I can invade their space and moment with a loved one.
It’s my fathers grave the son tells me. He died in 1936 but it was the First World War that killed him. Dad was gassed when in France and he had trouble breathing the rest of his war shortened life. The family owned a business in south Burnaby and I went to work with my dad everyday until he died when I was six. The son continues to talk while I and his lady friend listen, his wife died in 2012 he adds to the story. He looks into the past while he recollects how his older brothers used to beat on their fathers back with thick rolled up towels as he lied across the table. They would break chunks of gas damage from his war ravaged lungs that he would then cough up in spasms. The stark memories of a child 80 years ago vivid, the anguish in his voice real and now.
I thank them for their time and tell him I am honoured to know the story of his father. I explain that we come here often to reflect on life and liberty and enjoy the view. From now on we will visit his father personally every time we come to the graveyard. He thanks me for stopping and having an interest in remembering his father and all the other veterans. With that we say our goodbyes, they return to their car and me to my bike. In a graveyard of unknown victim’s of war and sacrifice, one man now stands out to us from his fallen comrades. The life long love of a son for a father he barely knew resonates through my mind as I digest his heartfelt Remembrance Day Tale