I never really had a chance to get close to my father. He was a man who had an unreasonable rage within him, and he backed away if I ever asked him about his thoughts or feelings. As a child I thought perhaps he did not like me very much, but as I look back now I can see that he found it hard to show his feelings. His love was shown in the time he spent with me, walking on the beach, fishing on the river, decorating my room. Once I was married and moved away from home, the times we spent together were very rare. I had a busy life and never paused in my onward haste of living to make an effort to spend an hour or so with him.
I knew he was a dreamer, though. He very rarely spoke of his yearnings to the family, having been shot down in flames when he had dared to suggest to my mother that he should move us all to New Zealand for a better life. However, a few months before he died he and I stood on a remote Norfolk beach and he told me of his dreams. He had wonderful ideas planned for his retirement. He had never been out of England, and he intended to travel the world. He was just a few months from retirement, and after all the years of hard work, a War, hardship and struggle, he intended to ensure that life did not get in the way any more.
Unfortunately, he never made it to retirement and died of a heart attack without my having the chance to say goodbye. I think that his dreams then became mine. All I could think about was exploring other parts of the world and I determined that I would explore all the places my father had aspired to visit.
Some years later, and with many thousand miles behind me, I realised that the yearning was still inside me but I didn’t know how to appease it. On a whim I decided to find out more about my father’s life. My mother told me that he had been orphaned at age seven, and I decided that was a good place to start. A visit to the local Family History Centre and I had soon found my father’s birth certificate, and from that, the name of my grandfather. After further investigation, and on discussion with my father’s sister, I soon had most of the story.
My grandfather was also a dreamer. He longed to go to Australia, or America, to see new countries and to meet new people. His life was the same as that of his parents, full of poverty and hardship, and he determined that his future would hold hope and excitement and a new life in another country. A quick romance and a young baby put paid to that, and then he was called to serve in the First World War at the age of 33. On the day they left his battalion marched through the City, and hundreds of people waved to the valiant men as they went to fight for their country and for freedom. He was sad to be leaving his children, but he was excited too. At last he would be going to see something of his world. For him it was a time of great anticipation, full of dreams of another beautiful country.
Reality was hard. The beautiful country was full of mud and blood and hunger and screams of pain from his comrades. The months stretched into years as the endless fighting continued. This was a cruel world and not the one of his dreams.
When he finally returned home he was a broken man, as were so many of his comrades. When my father was seven, my grandfather told him that he was going away. He said that his legacy to his son was a yearning to make something of his life, to travel the world, and to speak to people in different languages. Later that day my grandfather took a rope from the cupboard and hanged himself. A short time later my grandmother died, some said of a broken heart.
I found all this out from talking to family members and researching newspaper reports of the time. I found the journalist’s report of my grandfather’s inquest, suicide being noteworthy in the 1920’s. It was a cold and matter of fact report, but my tears fell on the paper and soaked into the abrupt words, perhaps trying to soften them.
My heart ached for my grandparents and for my father and his lost childhood. I understand, now, why my father always had that distant look in his eyes, and why he would stand and gaze across the ocean for hours at a time. He had The Legacy, and it gnawed at his soul.
I have The Legacy too. Shortly after my father died I went to America and saw all the places and things and wonders I know he yearned to see. I drove across Canada and I saw everything through my father’s eyes, for him. My brother carries on the family name, and he has the legacy. He has lived in America and travels extensively throughout the world, never happy unless on an aeroplane. I am pretty sure my son has it, too. He endlessly surfs the Internet for information on remote places in the world, and studies his favourite subject – geography – with a hunger only I can understand.
I just wish that I could turn back the clock now to that beach so many years ago. That maybe I could talk to my father about his hopes and dreams, and that perhaps I could have shared them with him. In some ways, I have. I am sure that as I stood transfixed at Lake Louise in Canada, or exclaimed in wonder at the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, or walked in the Shenandoah Valley, he was with me.