Stories worth telling

Both of my parents were talented story tellers. My mother had an amazing memory for the most trivial details. (I didn’t always appreciate that particular gift, especially as a teenager.) She often presented mindboggling facts in such a way as to solidly make her case before you even realized where she was heading.

My father, who had a splendid imagination, described scenes so vividly he drew you into the tale as if you were there. There was nothing subtle about the way he made a point, often punctuating his stories by slamming his fist on the table, whether in laughter or frustration.

So I grew up listening to stories every day – while we ate, did the dishes, sat in the living room or walked around the block. I heard about their childhood days, family life “back when,” immigration, and of course, the war years.

I especially loved the stories of their early years together. Not everyone can say their parents met in a bomb shelter. Hearing the same events recounted by two people revealed their differing perspectives, not only for the story at hand, but also for their relationship. Ma prided herself on her propensity for cheeky comments. Pa claimed he fell in love with her in spite of her sauciness. Apparently on their wedding day she told him not to expect her to shine his shoes. He replied that he wouldn’t think of it since she’d never do it as well as he could.

They came to Canada from Germany to make a new start. But memories of WWII shaped their worldview significantly, including their hopes and dreams for the future. Pa had served as a blacksmith in the infantry. Captured by the French, he worked as a cook in the POW camp. The French treated him well. But a soldier’s duty was to escape from the enemy, and he did. Back on active duty, the German army sent him to the Russian Front where he nearly lost his toes to frostbite.

Firsthand accounts
Ma lived with her mother and stepfather in a large city. They were bombed out of their home three times in three years. At night she slept in pajamas made from parachute fabric, with her shoes parked beside the bed, ready to run to the nearest air raid shelter at the sound of the alarm. She slept peacefully every night during the war, but years afterward she often woke up in a cold sweat, heart pounding, listening for airplanes in the distance.

When I was a child businesses and schools closed on November 11. In a solemn assembly the day before we recited In Flanders Fields, sang hymns and prayed for peace. We wore felt-paper poppies and drew pictures of crosses and battlefields. Local veterans came in and told us of their combat experiences. Thanks to my parents I had some notion of life during the war. I also had some vague sense of guilt for being German, as if I were culpable for wars that ended before I was born.

Sixty-seven thousand Canadians died in the First World War. H.G. Wells referred to it as “the war to end all wars.” It became a popular catchphrase, but history proved it sadly untrue. In World War II alone an estimated 60 to 85 million people lost their lives. Since then, more than 250 major military wars have erupted around the globe. Another 50 million people have died, tens of millions have been injured or impoverished and countless families have suffered the loss of loved ones. According to secular pacifist organization Peace Pledge Union, “[T]he twentieth century stands out as the bloodiest and most brutal – three times more people have been killed in wars in the last 90 years than in all the previous 500.”

Firsthand accounts of the “great wars” are scarce these days. But the stories live on. Surviving Legion members faithfully tend small town cenotaphs. Some towns hoist banners with the names and faces of hometown heroes, others decorate public walls with large murals. More recent wars have once again sent young Canadians home in flag-draped coffins. As long as humanity exists, so will conflict.

Christians know of another fierce war – the ultimate clash between good and evil. God has secured the victory, but for now the battles persist like smouldering hotspots after a forest fire has been doused. The potential danger warrants continued vigilance. The need to tell the stories of saints and their Deliverer is urgent. To understand anything about the wars surging around us, we must first comprehend the war unfolding in the spiritual realm. It’s an old, old story of an epic conflict and a conquering hero like no other, repeated many times from Genesis to Revelation. As believers, we’re duty bound to tell it again and again – lest we forget.

  • Arlene Van Hove is a therapist, a mother of four adult children and a grandmother to an ever-increasing brood of delightful grandchildren. She also belongs to the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, a subsidiary of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which raises funds for grandmothers who are raising the next generation in countries devastated by the Aids epidemic.As a writer Arlene hopes to provide a comforting voice for all those who struggle with the complexity of life. At the same time, she believes one of the roles of a columnist is to unflinchingly challenge 'the map when it no longer fits the ground.' And while she has less advice for others as she herself is aging, she hopes her columns will encourage her readers to develop questions and answers for themselves that continue to be worth asking and answering in the 21st Century. She is a member of the Fleetwood CRC in Surrey, B.

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