Category Archives: Photo Story Friday

A Tribute to The Greatest Generation and An Amazing Man

PhotoStory Friday

Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek

Bryan’s grandfather is by far one of the most gracious, generous, caring people I have had fortune to meet.  His gentle spirit shines through his fragile body.  He has lived an exemplary life having seen and lived through many things I truly hope none of us ever have to.

The first time I met him, he smothered me with love; his hugs envelop all who come within five feet of his grasp.  His hold is surprising in comparison to his fragility.  The pinnacle of his consideration and kindness towards me was exemplified when he hand-crafted a table lamp out of a gorgeous piece of wood for me, the Christmas before Bryan and I were married.  His carpentry skills are amazing.  When Bryan was younger, he made workable cement mixers, trucks, diggers and various other toys, all crafted by hand using his amazing array of machinery, simple shapes and imagination.  He has made beautiful cedar chests for every woman in the family, and surprised me five months later, when I arrived at the reception hall for more snapshots before the guests arrived.  As I walked over to the photograph area, my attention was drawn to a quiet corner close to photos of Bryan and me.  Sitting against the wall was a beautiful cedar chest, just for me — something I had not expected in the slightest.  As tears filled my eyes, I felt my heart swell with love for this man.  His craftsmanship echos the love he has in his heart.  And, he seems to have a knack of reading people within minutes of meeting them.  He’d continue to tell me I was “a good one” and that Bryan was to take good care of me.

Bryan and I used to work for the same company and commuted a long 45 minutes to work each way every day.  The blessing in this was that the workplace was a mere 10 minutes or so from his grandpa’s home.  We would drop by as occasion would permit, and sit and listen to his WW2 stories of his time in the military.  I would often smile, knowing that I had heard a particular story in previous visits, but he would occasionally add new appendages I had never heard before.  In retrospect, I am grateful that I heard so many stories so many times, it has aided in my memorization of them and their small details.

Before he enlisted into the military, he had a commercial driving license.  Be certain of this:  He enlisted, he was never drafted.  When he arrived on base, he was issued a military driver’s license where he would move trucks around.  He said one day he got called into his commanding officer’s office.  His immediate thought was that he was in trouble, that he’d done something horribly wrong.  On the contrary, he was impressed by Grandpa and asked him to be his personal driver for a season.  He would transport this officer wherever he asked, never breaking their silence to ask questions.  Ultimately, the commanding officer took favour with him and requested he become his full-time driver.

Later, his entire unit received orders to ship out in preparation for what would become D-Day.  However, Grandpa did not receive his orders.  When he asked, he was told that a better driver could not be found.  His commander was impressed with how well he had performed his duty and wanted him to remain on base as his personal driver.  In the end, Grandpa spent nearly two years on base before he was shipped out.  His orders finally came and he left for the U.K. on the last voyage of HMS Queen Mary as a troop ship to Europe.

He told me during one of our visits that after getting off the ship, his regiment had boarded a train in Scotland and taken a long journey south.  He couldn’t remember where he had boarded the train, but he recalled a large station outlining a coastline in Scotland near where HMS Queen Mary had docked.  He smiled as he mentioned “throwing candy to small children” and how much happiness he got from it.  Then his expression would fall and turn to disdain as he recalled his dislike for the war, and surprisingly, crumpets.

Bryan and I researched books, questioned my mother and finally we all came to the conclusion that HMS Queen Mary had docked and soldiers boarded a train in the adjacent town from me called Gourock.  The first time I took Bryan to Scotland, we stopped where his grandfather would have been and walked so many years ago and stood in silence, respecting the solemnity and significance of the moment.

I’ve already highlighted his creativity and ingenuity, but it is obvious this characteristic was always there. After arriving at his final destination somewhere inside France, Grandpa was assigned as an armoured car driver in the 9th Armed Division of the 1st Army.  He often spoke of how he disliked driving by looking through a small slit in the front of the armour plating.  He had a friend of his in the engineering corps weld a hinge and handle to that front plate.  Then he removed a windscreen from a damaged Jeep, wipers and all, and mounted it to the front of his car.  When enemy bullets would start flying he would reach out and lower the armour plate.  He often boasted that he had the only armored car in the entire war with a windscreen!  He drove that same armoured car in one of the most critical times of the War.  It was at a bridge in a place called Remagen, Germany.

Grandpa had become very ill and was in hospital while his unit went to the Battle of the Bulge.  When he left the hospital he found that he was the only one left from his original group.  The military found out he had that driver’s license and decided to make him a driver for an officer (I don’t recall which level but he could have been Captain).  He joined back up with the 9th Armoured Division and was dispatched to Remagen.

Those who know the history know that Remagen was the last standing bridge over the Rhine river and that Hitler did not want that bridge to stand.  When the 9th came across the bridge and saw it was still intact, they rushed into the scene full guns blazing.  German planes flew overhead trying to smash the bridge, ten v-2 rockets were launched at it, and many brave men died.  After the bridge had been taken, the Generals ordered tanks to start moving across the bridge before it could be taken out.  Unfortunately, one of the tanks fell through and blocked the entire thing.  Foot soldiers kept moving through but no large equipment could get passed.  The engineers finally had it removed and the bridge patched, but they had to test it to be sure it would hold.  Grandpa was asked to go, and bravely drove his armoured car across that bridge and back, all the while being attacked by the Germans.  Upon his successful return, the charge was on — the Allies had entered Germany.

Grandpa stayed on at Remagen for a short time, and took his turn sitting in the tower watching for German swimmers who would try to get down river and attach explosives to the bridge.  Eventually the bridge collapsed, but by that time, the engineers had placed pontoon bridges on both sides, and the movement of the Allies could continue into the Rhineland.

Grandpa never really spoke much more about what he saw.  We know he was one of the first into Neuremburg Stadium.  He climbed the flagpole and took the Nazi flag down.  He often joked that at the top of that pole someone had carved “Kilroy was here”.  He was also one of the first into the death camps.  Bryan tried to get him to talk about it a few times but it was just too difficult for him.  All he really said was it was awful, often with a tear in his eye.  He did manage to “liberate” a few items while in Germany though.  He brought home a couple of accordions and a few other little things.  He always had a soft spot in his heart for the German people, those innocents who were caught up in the awfulness of war.

The man I admire and adore is crippled by a physical disease and relies on his youngest daughter, my mother-in-law, to care for him in the comfort of her own home.  His Parkinson’s Disease has advanced very rapidly to a point where he no longer has any control over his physical body.  Every muscle in his frame painfully contracts.  He is unable to speak, but shows his once audible and animated expression through eyebrow raises, soft smiles and eye movements.  His condition, much like my Gran’s was, is up and down.  A few days ago, his oxygen levels had dropped to 70% and his lungs were filling with fluid.

These past few days, I have been pondering the complexity and simplicity of life, the fragility of our physical body and the mark we all leave in the world.  When it comes down to it, all we have in life are our convictions, the memories of how we have lived our life and the love of our family and loved ones.  Despite my religious convictions — or anyone else’s for that matter — death is never an easy subject to broach.   When we’re faced with it from the perspective of (physically) losing a loved one, reality sets in and priorities are checked and ultimately re-aligned.  It’s never easy to digest, even though I know that life doesn’t end at death, that our spirit lives on and we will all be reunited with the ones we love; even friends.  It’s hard to say goodbye.  I know that life is eternal and we are all a part of this plan that God has for us.  I have no doubts that there are angels watching over us in this world, and that they are the ones who care for us implicitly: Our family who have passed on.  I know that the people we meet in this life are of no coincidence nor happenstance.  A quote I heard a very long time ago and have never forgotten says:

Coincidences are small miracles where God wishes to remain anonymous.

We are due to arrive in Utah on 1st of November for my brother-in-law’s wedding on the 6th.  We are taking each day as it comes, that is all we can do.

Ian with Great-Grandpa 16 Aug 2006

It may be interesting to note that Grandpa’s great-uncle was Robert Leroy Parker, Jnr.  None other than Butch Cassidy himself.  Because of his striking resemblance, Grandpa was called ‘Little Butch’ as a child.


Hidden Talent

PhotoStory Friday

Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek

I’ve had some really nice feedback on my new profile photo I posted and I wanted to share the secret.  Well, it’s not really a secret, but it sounds better, doesn’t it?  My husband didn’t take it, in fact, someone over 4 feet didn’t even take it.  Who took it?  My 4-year-old.  I just sat in the grass and he wouldn’t stop clicking, so I played along.  Here’s a sample:

At this rate, he’ll be paying for me to live in the lifestyle I’ll have become accustomed to.

How I Snagged a NYT Bestseller for Free

PhotoStory Friday

Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek

I love to read.  Let me rephrase that:  I love to read books without pictures – although I will make an exception with The Gruffalo – and I try to grab the chance whenever I can; although I will say this, I don’t get the opportunity to read quite as much as I’d like due to little person obligations x2.  When I do find and make the time, the R.E.M.-like eye movements drop me right to sleep within twenty minutes.  It’s a curse.

I always hover around the book displays in Costco (and why is there always a weird trainspotting, anorak-wearing, mid-forties guy there that looks me up and down and grins?) and look for my next prey.  Sometimes I see something I really want — like the other day.  I went in for the kill and snagged it right up.  What a steal at $6.89!

As we were nearing the tills/checkout/cash registers/whatever they’re bloody called, I remembered that I’d forgotten my sweet coupon book, conveniently 45 miles to the south of us sitting on my kitchen counter smirking at me.  I had three coupons I wanted to utilise: $2 off Charmin, $2 off Bounty and $3 off Chinet dinner plates.  Hey, when you spend $244, you take what you can get.

I ran to the service desk and asked them if they had any coupon books left.
“Yes, here use this, but don’t tear any of them out, we need it back–”

I’d like to unequivocally state that I’m a frickin genius.  And just for the record?  My 4-year-old concurs.  This book was essentially free, with eleven cents to spare, thank you very much.  I was openly gloating at my own resourcefulness.  And, I have no shame.

Now, if I could just snag a self-hosted 3-year subscription website for free, I’ll be quite happy.

What kind of deals have you snagged lately?

Conspiracy Theory

PhotoStory Friday

Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek

Like I’ve said before, every aspect of your life as an ex-pat is revolutionised.  Things you’ve grown up with and taken for granted are suddenly gone and you’re left standing staring at shelves in the supermarket wondering what Miracle Whip and Cool Whip is, and trying not to confuse the two in random conversations.

You troll stores searching for products and names you recognise and even look at labels looking for the company name where you realise Schick and Wilkinson’s Sword are actually one and the same; or noticing that Lenor and Downy are the same company, even though Snuggle has the Orange Rush scent that smells just like Lenor’s Sunshine scent that your Mum uses.

I had retail stores in Glasgow and my hometown that I loved to browse and shop in.  I found my niche and stuck with it.  When I got here, there were only a few clothing places that  I recognised, one being T.J. Maxx — except is called T.K. Maxx over there.  I have no idea why.  And I really wish we had an H&M in Montana, I love that place.  So, it has been hard starting from scratch, shopping in places you have no historical loyalty to and learning where to go and where avoid.

I need help.

If you just said, “we already knew that, that’s nothing new…” shut your dirty mouth!

Before I start, let me just say I love weddings.  I get dazzled by the flowers, decorations, lights, music and the amazing ambiance.  I’m one of those people that totally gets swept up in the moment and enjoys the atmosphere.  And, it’s great to see two people who really love each other making a lifelong commitment of love, companionship and devotion to each other.  Although I have to say, there seems to be an unwritten rule somewhere for brides that says 40% of them have to wrangle bridesmaids or attendants into making them wear something they normally wouldn’t take a second glance at.

And before you start just so you know, I never had any bridesmaids

As happy as I am that my little BIL is getting married in November and that he’s found the love of his life, I can’t get over the skirt I’ll be prancing around in.  Well, me and at the very least, another four of us.  There are more, I just have no idea how many.  Now, I can live with the pattern.  After staring at it for two hours, I can live with it.  What I would have really liked is a wrap-over skirt — they’re easy to make and very flattering.  What we have is a slightly A-line skirt with a heavily elasticated waist with six small pin tucks to make it slightly flouncy.  Couple that with a calf-length hem that is just over an inch too short to be calf length and you have my living nightmare.

I know it’s not my wedding and I don’t get to decide, but still, how many body types do you know that an elasticated waist will flatter?  My friends Stacey and Clinton tell me “none” and “the computer says ‘no’.”

I’m really excited that we all get to pick a black blouse.  It doesn’t matter what it looks like, it just has to be black.  And wouldn’t you know it, I don’t own a black blouse.  The only constraint I have is I want to keep the price tag $50 or under.  So far, I have been unsuccessful in locating an amazing blouse.  Given my duration  here, I will say that I used to have places here that were my ‘go to’ for clothes, and without naming any names, their quality has went down, and their prices up.

So this is where I am hoping you lot will help me out.  Have you seen an amazing blouse that you love?  Do you own said blouse, and per chance, where can I buy it?  Do you hit nearby clothing stores (that I don’t have frequent access to) and have seen a blouse or could look out for one?

Now, this isn’t just a hollow, unrequited request.  Find me a great one that I purchase and I’ll send you a $25 gift card to the store of your choosing…