We just had our second successful celebratory BBQ last week. I can't believe it's already been 2 years for Riverside Medical. I'm so impressed by my spouse and the team. The obstacles they've overcome and their dedication to patient-centered care never ceases to impress me. I'm equally awestricken by our Legion members, who come host the BBQ every year in the rain (it's now a tradition for it to rain) so we can fundraise for the Drumheller Legion, Branch 22.The Legion holds a special place in my heart because I am an Army Brat. For 40 years, my father worked for the Canadian Military, representing our country with the Department of National Defence, from Ottawa to Vietnam to Egypt to Belgium to Quebec. In fact, I spent most of my youth in Europe, only moving back to Canada when he retired and I had just turned 16. My father was a veteran. A prisoner of war. A peacekeeper. He saw things he never talked about until his final days, as though seeking forgiveness for what he'd witnessed.
In fact, my first award winning story was about my Dad's experience in Vietnam. I was young when I wrote it and it certainly isn't a masterpiece; however, now that he's gone, I'm glad I wrote it. It demonstrates how we can never truly understand what veterans have been through. Although it is a good narrative, it's written by a someone who's never lived a war and therefore has to rely on imagination to translate experience into story. We can certainly try to imagine the horror and the pain, but we will never know exactly what it was like because we didn't live it. How wonderful that the sacrifice of these men led to people like me having to imagine a war, rather than live one? I hope that doesn't change in the future.
The story was inspired by a conversation I shared with my father. I was trying to come up with an idea for a story for a writing class I was taking at McGill University. I asked him what his best memory was: "Meeting your mother," he said. I rolled my eyes. Nobody wants to read more sappy true love stories, thought my young adult jaded mind. "What's your worst memory?" I asked. He paused for a few minutes and said: "Watching the exchange of prisoners between North and South Vietnam. All the wounded people we weren't allowed to help but just had to supervise." I had never heard him mentioned anything in that much detail about Vietnam. All he ever said was that he ate a lot of rice and now hated rice. Or that it was so hot, you lived in perma-sweat. "How'd you get through it?" I asked. "I imagined they were hockey players being drafted." And that was it. He wouldn't say more, no matter how much I probed. He'd said enough. With that little piece of info, I wrote a story. I've attached it here, in case your curious to read it: "Hearts and Hockey Cards."
My Dad's been gone a year and I miss him every day. I think of how much he loved his grand-daughters and taking them to Dairy Queen on Fridays. I imagine how much he would have loved his grandson and taken him around town, proud as a peacock to have such a smiling little man join the family. He would have joined us for karaoke at the Legion and grown fond of that place had he been well. I wish he were here to see me finally finish university and start working (I swear, I'm the only student to be admitted to Medicine whose parents said: "would you just stop studying and get a job!" And I would've loved to see him flip some burgers for the Legion, laugh his loud warm laugh in the rain as we celebrate our successes after so many hardships. I'm sure he was there in spirit, but boy, is he ever missed.