Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Remembrance, by Alistair MacLeod

Three generations of men, all called David MacDonald. Two stand waiting for the third. During this pause of preparation for the ceremony of Remembrance Day, all reflect on the history that has brought them here.

They are Cape Bretoners, descendants of those who came from the Scottish Highlands, where as the eldest David, a WWII veteran remembers, "young men like himself had always gone to war because of their history and their geography, but most of all because they were poor."

This grandfather, now nearly ninety, had married at a young age, then gone to war to support his wife and the child they conceived. When he realized that her infrequent letters were written by someone else, it occurred to him belatedly to wonder "whether his wife was literate."

A war-time rifle, now an unlicensed firearm, both kills and saves the son who is not his son. Regretting and not regretting the impulse that led him to buy this gun, the eldest David reflects that "a lot happened because of the war." From the grandson's perspective, his elders are like "adjacent trees that do not touch but share the same root system."

This third David, the one coming from far-off Toronto, is not a war veteran, but a city veterinarian. He knows that as usual, his grandfather will joke that "we vets must stick together." As he makes the long drive toward where the men of his lineage await him, he reflects that "Although unwanted kittens are euthanized, some 'teacup dogs' are valued at $40,000. There is a great love out there for life of the right kind, and for some, great care is given."

As it has done before, the spare and haunting prose of Alistair MacLeod spoke to me in some deep place as yet unhealed. "In the darkness of this Remembrance Day, I will go to stand with the David MacDonalds." These simple words brought tears to my eyes.

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