This story is loosely based on the life of my maternal grandfather. (I've posted this photo of him before so some of you may recognize it).
This pic was taken in Canada. His outfit looks out of place! We don't know the context.
He made seven trips to Canada during his lifetime. He even enlisted with the BC Bantams so that he could fight in WWI, and lied about his age on the form (I have a copy - he claimed to be younger than he was). But that's another story.
I wrote this story for a competition - but I didn't win! Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it!
I follow the story with a short piece about It's a Fluke who's staying with us at the moment.
Lost and Found
The old man was entrenched in his recliner next to the window of the sparsely furnished room. His thick, strong-looking fingers clutched a cane in his right hand. Close by, Margaret sat in the uncomfortable visitor’s chair, not quite facing him. She was on a mission to find out more about this man. She knew he’d been born in England in 1905 and had left his family to come to Canada. But before she could ask any questions, the old man started to talk as he gazed out of the window. He told her he’d come to Canada seven times in the 1930s because he had a daughter to raise.
“My daughter was born in England in 1929,” he said softly. “I came to Canada because there was work here, if you didn’t mind hard labour. I worked till I got enough money to go back to visit my daughter—on top of the money I sent home regularly.” His eyes shifted downwards. “Then I’d come back to get more work.”
“Hi, Pops.” A man stopped in the doorway. “Whoops. I forgot you have a visitor today.”
“Hello, I’m Margaret Brewster.” She didn’t offer her hand. She was shaking with the shock of meeting the old man’s grandson.
“I’m David.” David smiled warmly. “What are you writing about?”
“British men who came to Canada in the depression.” She wanted desperately to leave. “I’m sorry, I’m not feeling well. Must be jet lag.” The old man waved his cane as if to dismiss her, and she abruptly scurried out, mumbling her goodbyes.
Margaret returned to her austere hotel room and went to bed early, but despite the jet lag her thoughts kept her awake. Even though she’d expected to hate him, and it was a shock to meet his grandson, she couldn’t despise the old man and wanted to hear the rest of his story. She eventually fell asleep, having resolved to visit the old man again.
As soon as Margaret entered his room the next day, the old man said, “David will be coming soon. He usually drops by in the afternoon.” Margaret would have preferred David not to come.
“Did I hear my name?” David sprinted over to the old man and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead. The small gesture of affection surprised Margaret. She thought men were incapable of caring, let alone having loving relationships. Nothing in her life had shown her otherwise.
The old man immediately resumed telling his story. “My wife, my dear Eleanor.” With his lip quivering, he explained that Eleanor had died mysteriously. Their newborn daughter, Elizabeth, was only five days old when her mother was found dead in a snowdrift, a full mile away from the farm.
“Eleanor was wearing only her nightdress. I don’t know what came over her to go out in that blizzard.” Margaret could sense his pain, still raw after all these years, and was taken aback by his emotion.
“Back then, the only place I could find work with enough pay to raise a daughter without a mother was here in Canada,” the old man said. “I worked in logging camps, mostly. No place for a baby.” He turned his watery eyes towards Margaret and then quickly turned away to look out of the window again.
He explained that he arranged to have Elizabeth cared for by a kind woman who lived near his farm. But he admitted that he’d lost both his wife and his daughter in that snowdrift. Elizabeth was a stranger to him because he was away so much. The old man hung his head and Margaret was afraid that he might start sobbing. She felt a tension headache coming on.
“Let’s have a break,” David interjected. “I’ve got some photos to show you.”
Margaret couldn’t help but be impressed with David’s sensitivity to the old man’s emotions. The photos showed David at the racetrack with various thoroughbred racehorses. She was fascinated by the stories their successful trainer told about them.
But the old man suddenly interrupted. “I had to sell the farm. It had too many memories, and I was hardly ever there.” He said he got little for it—times were bad. And it got too depressing to return home when Elizabeth acted as if he was a stranger. So, he just stopped going.
“There was always work in Canada. It was hard work,” he admitted, “but I needed the money for Elizabeth.”
He said that he wrote to his daughter, but he isn’t much of a writer. He did his best. Margaret believed him. Despite her preconceptions, her intuition was telling her that this old man was a good man. She suddenly had an urge to touch him. She’d never touched a man before.
“Of course, Elizabeth eventually got a place of her own,” the old man said. “Then she’d only write at Christmas.” He remembered one Christmas in particular. Elizabeth was only twenty and wrote to say that she’d had a daughter.
“I was worried sick. There was no mention of a husband.” The old man shifted slightly. “But then I got some photos in the mail. Elizabeth and her new daughter looked so happy together. I wanted to see them so much.” He dropped his head slightly and turned his face away from her. Margaret swallowed.
“Pops, don’t upset yourself,” David said, obviously concerned.
Despite wanting desperately to hear the rest of the story, Margaret offered to come back the next day.
“No, I’m okay,” the old man said, quickly turning his head to face her. “I didn’t go. I didn’t go to see them. I couldn’t, you see. I was recovering from the accident.” He explained that a load of logs came loose off a sleigh and crushed his leg, and it had to be amputated.
“But I was the lucky one, wasn’t I David? My best buddy, Alf, was killed in the same accident.” He turned to David. “Lots of men got killed in the lumber camps back then.”
“Alf was my granddad,” David explained. “It was a terrible tragedy. I never got to meet him.”
“You thought David’s my grandson, didn’t you?” Margaret’s face reddened. He continued without a pause. “I have an artificial leg. I think it’s my third. It’s been a pain—in all senses of the word. But I can’t grumble. I’m here, aren’t I?”
David smiled when the old man looked up at him.
What she’d heard was so unexpected that Margaret was trembling. She wanted to hug them both.
“I don’t want to break this up,” David said, “but I think you’ve had enough for today. What do you think, Pops?” The old man lifted his cane, which presumably indicated his agreement. David kissed his adopted grandfather on the forehead and beckoned Margaret to go ahead of him through the door. He wasn’t smiling.
Despite the turmoil in her mind, Margaret had a better night, and was awakened by the phone at about eight o-clock the next morning. David had left a message at the front desk simply stating that her meeting had been cancelled. Margaret wasn’t sure what to think. Was the old man ill? Was the emotion of telling his story too stressful? Why hadn’t David called her?
She needed to find David and talk to him. Within the hour her rental car was pointed in the direction of the racetrack. But it seemed an eternity before she arrived at the security gate which guarded the entrance to the barns.
“I’ve come to see David,” Margaret said. “Oh no, I don’t know his surname. He’s expecting me.” She stretched the truth. “He’s a trainer.”
“Well, you’re in luck. There’s only one trainer called David,” the security officer said. “You’ll have to go to that office, and David will have to sign you in.”
Margaret wondered if David would respond to the page and show up, but he arrived after about ten minutes. He walked past her and signed the necessary documents. She thanked him.
“It’s best if you come in my truck.” He held the office door open for her. Where was that wonderful smile of his? The old man must be very sick. But why wasn’t David with him? They travelled in uneasy silence until David parked by a long, green barn and they both got out.
“Is he okay?” Margaret asked.
“I wondered when you were going to ask.”
“Is he sick?”
“I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out.”
Margaret looked at him anxiously. She didn’t know what he meant.
“Well, I don’t know, and I’m very worried. What’s going on?”
“I should ask you that,” David replied. “You won’t even admit to us who you really are. I told Pops that you’d be bound to tell him the truth once he started opening his heart to you. But you kept up your charade of writing some kind of book.”
“Are you saying he’s not ill?” asked Margaret. David was checking one of the thoroughbreds, behind a wire mesh half-door. It might just as well have been a brick wall, as far as she was concerned. But he noticed the furrowed brow, the staring eyes, and the tensely closed mouth of someone who was genuinely concerned.
“Yes, and no. Let’s get a coffee.”
Margaret was oblivious to her surroundings as they walked in silence to the cafeteria. She was trying to figure things out. She concluded that the old man had known who she was, right from the start, and that it had been foolish to think he wouldn’t. He had probably thought that telling his story would change her feelings of hostility. He was right. But she hadn’t opened up to him.
“You even assumed that I was his grandson.” David broke the silence as he put down the tray.
“You’re right. I’m his granddaughter.” Her voice was squeaky. She realized she wanted to be accepted by her grandfather and to be part of David’s circle, too. Her hand was shaking too much to pour the tea from the small stainless-steel teapot.
“There’s a technique for those things,” David said, as he quickly rescued her. This unexpected small show of kindness gave Margaret some hope for reconciliation. She told him about how she’d been the caregiver for her mother during her battle with cancer. She knew little about her grandfather. Her mother, even in her dying days, didn’t want to talk about him. She’d led her to believe that men weren’t to be trusted and weren’t capable of caring. But Margaret didn’t confess that she’d not had any sort of relationship with a man, not even a kiss. She didn’t want to admit that to David.
“I suppose, deep down, I’ve always wanted to meet my grandfather. But I came for selfish reasons and didn’t consider his feelings. I’ve been heartless.” She stared into her tea. “I shouldn’t have come.”
David suddenly lent back in his chair, lifting the two front legs off the floor, and scowled at her.
“I’m glad Pops didn’t hear you say that. That would have hurt him. Don’t you realize he’s craving to get to know you? That he wants his family back? You’re all he’s got in the world. I love him dearly, but I’m not family. Don’t you have any sensitivity to other people’s feelings?” He let his chair back down with a thump. “He was pleased you were coming. What’s hurt him is you continued the deceit. You didn’t share anything with him. You just took.”
Margaret’s stomach churned. She’d blown everything—perhaps she wasn’t capable of any kind of relationship. Looking after her mother was all she could do.
“I do want to get to know my grandfather,” Margaret said, nearly inaudibly.
“Because he’s the only family I’ve got. Because I’ve grown to care about him even in the short time I’ve been here. I realize he’s special and I’m proud that he’s my grandfather.” She hung her head as her eyes threatened tears.
She was startled by David’s warm, slender hand on hers. A tingle ran down her spine.
“Margaret, that’s the right answer. Not that it was a test. Actually, I suppose it was. I care about Pops so much. I don’t want him hurt.”
“Will he see me? Perhaps you could talk to him? Perhaps you could help me reach out to him? I’m not good at this,” she admitted. She’d had all her mother’s hurt, feelings of abandonment, and issues with men, loaded on her shoulders as a burden to carry throughout her life. Margaret had a sudden urge, a strong need, to shake off all the baggage. It didn’t belong to her.
“I’ll talk to him.” David smiled at her for the first time that morning. As they left the cafeteria, Margaret plucked up the courage to give David a brief embrace, which he gently reciprocated. She found the hug strangely comforting.
When the time finally came to see her grandfather again, Margaret was trembling with apprehension. What should she say? As she entered the room, the old man stood up slowly and stiffly. He lent his cane carefully against his chair and then held his arms open wide. Margaret hurried over to him, and they hugged. She grabbed a tissue to dab her eyes.
“Now, tell me something about yourself,” her grandfather said.
“I remember you visiting us when I was about eight years old.” Attempting to explain her behaviour, she added. “Mum said I wasn’t to touch you.”
“That probably came out of anger. Yes, I sent money, but I wasn’t a father to her.” He heard someone at the door. “Ah, David. I’d like us all to have some tea in the sunroom.”
“I think we should do as we’re told,” David said, as he turned to Margaret and smiled. His eyes sparkled.
When tea was over, she didn’t want to leave them. She was beginning to have a sense of belonging.
Back in her hotel room, her heart was heavy. She would have to leave the day after next—return to England, to the empty, dreary house and no friends. She didn’t want to go back to that life. It was merely an existence.
By the morning she’d decided she was going to live in Canada, near to her grandfather. After all, there was nothing to keep her in England. She broke the news to him that afternoon. David seemed pleased, probably because it made her grandfather happy, she thought. He offered to help her with the immigration process in any way he could.
He laughed and said, “Even if it means I have to marry you!” Her grandfather and Margaret joined in the laughter, but Margaret’s heart missed a beat.
Vicky Earle Copyright 2022
It's a Fluke
It's a Fluke is a two-year-old racehorse that we are part-owners of.
He's at our farm for a vacation and he's enjoying our pasture!
He's settled in well.
The plan is for him to return to Woodbine Racetrack in about four weeks time.
He gets on well with all the other animals. Finch (our dog) even licked his nose a couple of times by way of a greeting.
We're hoping that he gets to race at least once this racing season.