by: Rebecca Taylor
(previously published in The Sherbrooke Record)
I have travelled across the seas to far away places; I have seen tragedy, destruction, and pain. Now, back home where I have been for the past sixty-three years, I am safe. I am made of hand chosen wood; I am the trunk George Bamford built and gave to his son Benjamin Michael before he went to war, an eighteen-year-old boy who became a man in 1939. I carried Ben’s uniform, a few other shards of clothing but most importantly the few reminders of home that he brought with him: a picture of his love Jenny, a handkerchief given to him by his younger sister, a Bible, and letters he had received from home.
Often these letters were months old when he got them because the war forced him to travel many miles a day and sometimes the post didn’t get through enemy lines. The news was old but the love sent by Jenny, his parents and siblings was genuine and this was what kept him walking and surviving in the freezing cold, blistering heat and through the battles when he didn’t know if he would make it home to his loved ones. To have those amazing letters tucked away in my false bottom to protect the messages from falling into the wrong hands was a wonderful feeling.
The more I got to know Ben and his family, the more I loved them. I prayed for them all during those six war torn years. When finally, the fighting had stopped and we were able to return home from Germany, I felt blessed and thankful. One of the worst days of fighting that I can remember is while Ben and I were fighting for survival and our beliefs in a trench. It was late at night and it was dark, only the light from the moon and stars shone on us, but the sound of our enemy’s artillery told they weren’t far away and we knew that if we lit the kerosene lamp our position would be compromised. Ben was crouched down in the trench on his belly beside me, firing his rifle whenever the dim light showed him someone sneaking our way. One of the enemy shots came very close to hitting Ben and taking him away from me, his military comrades, and his family back in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. But the bullet didn’t hit Ben; it hit me blazing a hole in my side. The shattering of my strong wooden body was unbelievable, I was stunned, but finally the bullet exited and hit the ground in our trench. I winced with the pain for several moments but finally when I looked over at Ben, his face lathered in sweat from his close call, I knew that we would be all right, because we had each other.
Ben would have liked to patch me when we returned home but somehow he never got around to it, he was too busy catching up with his friends and family, marrying Jenny and having eight children of his own and eventually we all got used to the way I look. Ben’s daughter Amy says it is my medal of valour, for saving her father before she knew him. I’m grateful that Ben didn’t repair the bullet hole in me; it serves as a memory for all who look at me of what war can do. I wish more people would listen to my story, that is why I am writing to you tonight, to tell you that the world needs peace. Everyone fighting in a war no matter what side they are on has someone who loves and cares about them. I was lucky but there are a lot who return to their loved ones in caskets, and I wonder for what reason. Haven’t Ben, I, and all the others who have fought in wars shown that peace is necessary, that there has to be another way. I sit at the foot of Ben’s bed; he is now eighty-seven years old, but in fairly good health, a blessing for a man who went through as much as he did, trying to find the words to make myself understood. I think of Ben’s family and the looks on their faces the day we returned home, walking up the driveway into their loving arms. I reflect on Ben’s life with Jenny, who is also still with us, and the growth of their children, now we even have great grandchildren who come to visit. The summertime is a bustling place for us, a horrifying thought is jumping into my head, and I wish it would go away. What if one of Ben’s grandchildren, great grandchildren or a future generation has to go to fight for their beliefs and what if one of them doesn’t make it home. What will that do to this family or a family like it? I’d like to push that thought out of my mind but I know that it is too important to ignore. The time is now, the world needs to join together, and find a way to declare peace. Please help this happen, together we can stop the world from feeling the pain that so many families have felt and will feel if we don’t make changes. For now, I will go back to holding the memories of Ben’s family, from all the letters written during the war still tucked safely away in my false bottom as well as mounds of picture albums including one that holds the picture of Jenny that Ben took with him so long ago but I will not forget; you shouldn’t either.