“I have a confession to make, Grandfather.” I lean forward – earnest, shy. After all, I don’t know this man, although I am learning much about him. And he certainly doesn’t know me. How to manage this nascent relationship?
He looks at me. His eyebrows rise almost imperceptibly. I think he knows what I’m about to say. I’m unable to meet his gaze. I have to fill the silence, and start gabbling.
“I’ve been reading it – well, trying to!” I strangle a nervous laugh recalling that our previous conversation about his writing hadn’t ended well. “Your diary from 1916 – in your Army Message Book – preparations in Le Havre, the goat eating your door curtain – remember?! The nightingale? Going over the top on the First of July, being wounded. Your capture, for goodness’ sake! Then the hospital train, PoW camp at Gütersloh… Your friends, Grandfather.”
He turns away with a sigh.
“I’m sorry. I really can’t simply leave it. It’s just – well, you held onto it for years, then dad kept it, too – along with the essays. They were always there ‘in the garage’ wherever we were living depending on where dad was posted to. I can’t ignore that. They’ve all been put away for decades, and – well, now I’ve read the essays, done some research – I understand so much more, I’m making sense of it. And of you, and dad, maybe. A little, anyway.”
He is silent. I so want his approval. I lay my hand on his shoulder, but he stays turned away. The rough wool of his jacket feels like barbed wire under my hand.
“Grandfather, the first essay I read – quite by accident, I just pulled it out of the jumbled pile – was ‘A Road’ which is the first essay to do with the War you wrote, and that wasn’t until 1922. I thought it was a most extraordinary piece of writing! You describe noticing the sunlit day and the trees and insects with lyrical beauty, and all while you’re under enemy bombardment and facing machine gun fire! You wrote it as a memorial to the ‘… thousands of brave men’ who used the ‘corduroy road’ of the title. Please understand, Grandfather. The reason I’m reading your diary is that I have that same impulse – I can’t just leave you in the darkness, and all the people you mention…” Shaking slightly, his slender, fly-tying fingers, so like dad’s, briefly touch my hand.
I think it’s the closest I shall ever be to having his blessing.