Take for example, the planning of our summer vacation. I was thrilled to go to Europe, but wasn't exactly delighted when my husband announced that he and our two boys wanted to do the WWI, WWII route. I mean, how dull, right? Visiting old graveyards, army bases, etc. Not my idea of fun by any means.
... little did I know.
Before the trip, I decided to write a historical novel based on my grandparents' lives. It's a novel that had been calling my name for quite some time. But what I never imagined was that I'd find the very house my grandmother left Belgium from to marry my grandfather in Canada, that I'd trace their very footsteps.
My grandmother lived in a small town called Chatlineau over a hundred years ago at #117, Rue de Gilley. On a spur of the moment decision, I suggested we try to find it, certain it wouldn't have survived, but it did, and here it is.
The only regret I had was that I didn't knock on the door. I was too shy. If only I could have stood in the very rooms where my grandmother slept, ate, and laughed with her family.
The next really cool thing we did was to travel to Arras close by Vimy Ridge where the Allies finally won the upper hand over the Germans. We wandered around in the tunnels that transported the soldiers to the very place where they surprised the Germans by their sudden appearance. We navigated the trenches, constructed over the originals. (They had no choice but to follow the originals because there are thousands of unexploded bombs beneath the grounds.) Had my grandfather stood in these same trenches? Did he have trench foot, like so many soldiers did? Was he plagued by rats? The only thing I know for sure is that he had body lice.
Then we traveled to the future visiting Juneau beach where a cousin of mine survived the Normandy Invasion, a terrible ordeal that would leave him troubled with PTSD all his life. It ws so strange to stand on a beach that's so beautiful and serene, the waves lapping in rhythm along the shore, to realize that this was once the scene of mass destruction with bodies littering the ground like driftwood.
Returning to Britain, I had the honour of seeing the White Cliffs of Dover. How often I'd heard of this famous landmark. What were my grandmother's thoughts when she spied these cliffs from a distance. How did she feel when she disembarked the ferry, having little or no English and had to find her way to the train station that would take her to Liverpool and hence to Halifax? Did she have the proper currency?
We'll never truly know. But on my return, I discovered my sister held a treasure box of love letters between my grandparents that were perfectly preserved. My father had put it in her care before he died. Postcards from WWI that displayed horses and wagons near well-known British structures like Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge, etc. As you can imagine, I've been pouring over them with great fascination. As a child, I'd only known my grandparents as old people, worn out from a difficult life. And now, I had a chance to get to know who they really were.
And so what looked like a very boring 'guy' trip turned out to be a memorable experience, and a treasure trove of valuable information. How special to step into the past and to meet my real grandparents whom I shall forever cherish.