Survival tales are a big part of family folklore. We pass the stories on in the belief that genetics are linked to fate, and with the hope that our children will be inspired by the grit of our ancestors.
My great uncle, Perce Lemmon, survived having his leg blown off on a road to Vimy Ridge in the First World War when he was nineteen-years-old. He returned to Canada, married Aunt Nora, and lived well into his nineties. He didn't like to talk about the war. Uncle Perce wrote to me once, with great pride, that he'd been married to my aunt for more than fifty years, and shared this: "I love to make her laugh. We never do bicker. And she still puts up a fine meal every night." His words moved me, and I wondered if the secret to both a good marriage and a long life were in them.
In 1918, my maternal grandfather, Wilfred Loyer, fell victim to the Spanish flu in infancy. When he stopped breathing and lay still in is cradle, his broken-hearted father went to fetch a shroud to swaddle his body. His sobbing mother picked him up and began to shake him. The shaking dislodged mucus from his lungs, and he gasped for air and began to cry. Born again. After surviving Spanish flu, and near-death, my
I think about my ancestors more often, savouring their survival stories, because I hope there's a genetic link to our fate, and because even if there isn't, I'm inspired by the dauntless human spirit.
grandfather became the navigational pilot of a Halifax Bomber, flying missions over Germany in WWII. On one occasion he watched the tail gunner in the plane beside him fall out of the canopy and to his death. On another he risked court marshal by refusing to fly out for a bombing mission in a plane that was later found not flightworthy. My grandfather lost my grandmother to pancreatitis when she was just forty-seven. Then he lost his thumb in a farm accident with a table saw. He survived numerous health issues and surgeries as he grew older, and lived to the ripe age of eighty-nine. Optimism was his secret weapon. He didn't like to talk about the war either, except to say how bad he felt about it all.
When I was fourteen-years-old, my father had a massive coronary. He was thirty-eight and the picture of health. It happened the day before Father's Day. I was working an afternoon shift at the cosmetics counter at the drugstore when my aunt came with the news that my father had had a heart attack on the golf course. I remember her saying that he was alive but I don't remember her saying that he was going to be okay and, for a while, we weren't sure. My mother did what needed to be done. She took on my father's workload in the house, became a caregiver to him, and looked after we three children without missing a beat. Determined and tenacious, my father improved quickly, then recovered fully. My parents used the same tools to survive his six-way bypass several decades later. My father continues to enjoy golf, and to travel to California with my mother, his wife of fifty-four years.
I'm middle-aged – closer to 100 than 0 as my smartass kids remind me – and confronting my mortality in a less abstract way than I did when I was younger. I think about my ancestors more often, savouring their survival stories, because I hope there's a genetic link to our fate, and because even if there isn’t, I’m inspired by the dauntless human spirit.
Lori's book, The Mountain Story, is published by Simon & Schuster and available from Amazon.