John Wellington "Wally" Peet (1919-2007)

Five Things Grandpa Peet and I Talked About During Pretty Much Every Conversation We Ever Had
1. The Stock Market
2. The Price of Oil
3. The Blue Jays
4. The Weather
5. The Stock Market

I was honoured to give the eulogy at Grandpa Peet's funeral this year, him having passed away only a week after Pace was born.  Needless to say, that was a time of the highest of highs and lowest of lows of my entire life, all within a period of a few days. 

The funeral was a decent affair as far as these things go – fairly light on the overwrought rhetoric and sombre tone that marks so many funerals but with a couple unique moments I'll never forget. 

One was right at the end when three couples that Grandpa and Grandma used to dance with regularly, waltzed right out of the chapel where the funeral was held to Anne Murray's song, “Could I Have This Dance?”.

I knew in advance that this would happen and thought it would be the part of the funeral where I'd be most likely to get emotional.  But it was such an uplifting, happy way to end that instead, any tears I had were (strangely at the funeral of your last living grandparent) tears of joy – a fitting final tribute to a long, well-lived, successful life. 

The other moment that I didn't expect to affect me much ended up hitting me much harder than I ever thought it would.  It was when some members of the local Royal Canadian Legion stood to perform a tribute to my grandfather – something that apparently happens at the service of any deceased member of the armed forces.

One member read “The Ode of Remembrance“…

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

…and then, as “The Last Post” bugle call played over the speakers, one by one, six different Legionnaires marched to the front of the chapel, saluted, marched to a wreath that the first person had placed and pinned a poppy to it, returned to their spot, saluted again, then returned to their seat. 

I'm not a complete pacifist but if you know me, you know that I lean pretty strongly that way  [Edit: Here's how I think of it – I'm like a vegetarian who will eat fish or chicken.  Not one in the purest sense but in my own definition of what the term means – yes, very much so.]

So as I said, it was a bit of a shock at how much this brief ceremony affected me.  It made me realise that my grandfather had done things in his life that I likely would never have to (partly because he did them when he did).  It reminded me how different our lives had been, not just that he had been to war and I hadn't but just how different our entire experiences of being alive were even though we were born only fifty-odd years apart.  It affected me because I knew the reason I was able to get the job that I did right out of library school was because a young man with a value set very similar to my grandfather's had chosen to go to Afghanistan out of a sense of duty to his country with all the risk that entailed rather than contentedly sitting at a desk in Weyburn Saskatchewan, buying books and supervising a network of rural library branches.  And it hit me because, as each of those octogenarians marched, slowly but with purpose, to the front of the room, I thought what it must be like to do this ceremony for yet another one of their deceased comrades, knowing how close to the end of their lives they were as well and what it would mean to our society to lose this generation. 

A bit more about one of these points which I also touched on in the eulogy I read that day – what a stunning revelation it was to realise that my grandfather and I had both been in England as young men in our 20's – him as a soldier risking his life as a tank driver in the Netherlands, me as a student who, because of what he and so many others did during the war, was able to visit the Netherlands during my time in Europe as a carefree tourist with not a care nor concern in the world. 

This is an extremely hard thing to admit on a public blog but I usually don't wear a poppy in November. This is partly because I feel that if you show support for one cause, you should show support for all of them that you believe in, partly because of my feeling towards wars (even just ones) in general (I think of the hypocrisy of people saying “I'm against the war but I support the troops“) and partly because of my inherent resistance to anything which 99.9% of the population partakes in as the ultimate form of peer pressure and conformity. 

Are those good reasons?  I don't know.  Have I ever worn a poppy?  Yes.  Could I wear one next year?  Maybe.  Would I feel like a hypocrite if I did?  Ask me when I do.  Do I slip money into the bins where they sell them?  Sometimes.  Do I think about what Remembrance Day means each and every year?  Probably more than many people who slip that poppy on like a politician slips on a smile. 

In fact, I usually shed a
tear or two on Remembrance Day in my own private way. It's just that
today, those tears will be more directly meaningful than they ever have
been before.

I'll end the way I started…

Five Things My Grandpa Peet and I Rarely Talked About

1. His experiences as a tank driver in Europe during WWII

2. What It Was Like For Him Growing Up On the Prairies in the First Half of This Century

3. How He Met and Fell In Love With My Grandma

4. Politics, Religion and Philosophy

5. His Dreams, His Hopes, His Fears Throughout His Life

But we did talk about each of these things at least a bit and increasingly during the last years of his life.  And for that, I am grateful.  More than anything, those are the things I will remember today.

Comments 2

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    In my multi-tasking sort of way, I read your post while watching the Ottawa Remembrance Day ceremony on TV. In the background were children singing “In Flanders Fields”, and now “Nearer my God to Thee” is playing. And while I am always moved by the act of remembrance, your blog actually moved me to tears. (It's all about timing and the music).
    For many of us, the poppy and the ceremonies help us to remember. I don't think it matters whether you show the world or that you do it in private, as long as you DO remember. Clearly, you have, and you've helped me to as well.
    Thanks for this post today.

    Posted 11 Nov 2007 at 4:18 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Thanks for the positive feedback. I can honestly say that I've never been more scared to hit “post” on this blog in my life! Admitting that you don't wear a poppy is sort of like saying you don't partake in Christmas or you're not a Tom Hanks fan.
    I'd glimpsed at the Ottawa ceremonies in a similar multi-tasking way but after your comment, decided to watch some with a bit more attention. Thanks to the magic of time-shifting, I was able to catch some live via our most westerly province.
    BC also happens to be where my grandfather spent the last quarter of his life. So that also personalized the impact of the ceremonies I happened to watch and as with the ceremony at his funeral, I was touched in a way that I never had been before – even in years when I watched the Remembrance Day ceremonies and thought about my grandfather and his experiences. But yeah, knowing that he's gone now and all I have left is memories – that's tough.

    Posted 12 Nov 2007 at 3:45 pm
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