This morning there is a little true story I wish to share….
Morning tea at Grandma’s house was not unusual, but there was something different about this occasion. My fingers traced the familiar lace detail of the tablecloth that covered the table whilst Grandma laid out the fragile tea cups and saucers that she kept in the whitewashed hutch in the kitchen. Uncle Bill leaned quietly against the high back of his favourite chair, whilst Grandma sat in the chair opposite me. Today, however, an elderly man, whom I had never met, sat to Grandma’s left.
Grandma looked different to the Grandma I knew from my childhood. Her hair was auburn, not white. It was pulled up on top of her head with fine wisps falling to frame her relaxed and smiling face. How curious, I thought to myself. She’s different. Not so serious. Younger. Grandma looked up from pouring tea and proceeded to introduce the guest who sat beside her. Although the elderly gentleman looked vaguely familiar, I did not recognize his face. Grandma beamed from ear to ear as she announced, “This is my husband!”
My eyes were transfixed on “Grandma’s Husband” whom I had never met. He had disappeared in 1955 without a trace, so I was told. Gripped by both excitement and shock, I could not stop staring at the man who was my Great Grandfather. What does one say to a man who suddenly reappears after an entire lifetime of absence? He had been the subject of my research for the past 10 years. How many times have I wished for this moment? All the unanswered questions I had accumulated over the years were whirring around in my brain like a fast train. My father has said numerous times that he wished he had been more interested in his Grandfather when he was around. Who would have thought that one day he would reappear?
Unlike Grandma, my Great Grandfather had aged. I had only known him in his prime; as a dashing young Light Horse officer during the Great War. That young man who stood so straight and proud in his military uniform had been ravaged by time and experiences. I search the lines and crevices that now mapped his thin face, hoping to find points of recognition. His eyes that stared at me from old sepia photos with the alertness of a trained soldier, now gazed at me across the table with a soft blue glaze.
With each sip of tea, my eyes beamed straight over the rim of my teacup, directly at my Great Grandfather. With each intake that flooded my mouth, a stream of words flooded my thoughts. Gallipoli, Egypt, light horse to name a few. Then there were doubts: Would he talk to me? (Afterall, I am a woman!) Should I ask about the war? (But soldiers don’t talk about it). I cannot recall how the conversation began or for that matter what I said. All I know is that once the words, questions, sentences fell from my tongue, there was no stopping them. Back and forth, I asked and to my amazement he answered. He seemed happy to talk, as if the Great War was his vocation. Fueled by elation, I inhaled every word.
As fast as the morning had dawned, it faded into oblivion; and along with it, my vision of my Great Grandfather. I awoke from my dream and my excitement was replaced by disappointment. I lay in bed hoping that what had transpired was real, but nothing. Even the conversations had evaporated. My memories of the moment were reduced to a silent movie. My long list of unanswered questions remained just that. Unanswered.
Was my dream one of my little psychic moments as I call them. I do believe my ancestors talk to me; they have a habit of leading me to their stories. Dreams can be interpreted in many ways, however, I choose to believe that it was my Great Grandfather’s way of giving me permission to tell his story; a story he found too painful to tell himself. That was my aha moment that started me on this journey behind the cupboard doors.