Remembrance Days

Life is a collection of memories. They pile up, connect together, disconnect and make up in a scrambled way what a person’s life is all about.

I remember the one-room schoolhouse I attended in Saskatchewan – the town was so small we couldn’t afford a village idiot; everyone had to take turns.

Along with my two older sisters and younger brother, we would walk three miles across the wheat fields from the schoolhouse to downtown Hearne (people from Hearne are called Hernias).

I have no memory of this but now that we’re adults, my sisters have reminded me I used to trail them by half a mile on that walk. Which, I guess, is understandable for a future writer since writing is the single trade in life you can only do alone. It’s a lonely life.

Everyone remembers where they were the exact moment they learned JFK had been shot.

I was a junior reporter at the Vancouver Sun and, when the panic hit the newsroom on Nov. 22, 1963, I was pushed into action manning the wire copy machine. The machine spit out the news, telling of Jackie Kennedy on Air Force One flying from Dallas to Washington, standing beside Lyndon Johnson, who was being sworn in athe new president, and
refusing entreaties to clean up the blood of her husband that stained her suit, saying she wanted all Americans to see what they had done.

I worked past my shift and went home. And when I walked in and saw my then-wife, I burst into tears. That’s what I remember.

I remember riding a Vespa scooter through Poland and rushing to get to Poznan before dusk. Along the way, I came across a herd of cows crossing the road. All but one had crossed. I gunned the machine – and the cow reversed its course.

I went over the handlebars, landed on the rough macadam surface and removed three layers of skin on all 10 fingers.

The Vespa scooter has two grips on the handlebars – one for gas, the other for the brake. Every time I had to press either on the continuation of my journey, blood spurted from my fingers. I arrived in Poznan at five o’clock, quitting time for the city workers, and stopped at a bus stop, with the somewhat puzzled Poles looking at this fool with blood dripping from his hands.

A man approached, took me by the arm and led me up an alley. I didn’t know whether I was going to be mugged, robbed or raped. He couldn’t speak a word of English, of course, and I didn’t speak Polish. It turned out he was a pharmacist. He took me in, bandaged my wounds and, when done, nodded good-bye. I will never forget the cow nor him.

Such are memories.

I remember taking my 21-year-old daughter to Israel. We booked into the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and she, like any inquisitive kid in a foreign city, announced that while I napped, she was going out to explore the scene. I suggested that wasn’t a good idea.

Next day, while Howard Cosell wandered around the hotel pool looking for Americans who would recognize him, we read the morning papers.

It turned out two teenagers, dressed in loose Arabian robes, were in the Old Market in Jerusalem and, spotting what they assumed was an elderly Jew, produced thick knives from beneath their robes and stabbed him to death. The victim turned out to be a German tourist. My daughter got the message, and our driver became our bodyguard.

I remember never liking Bobby Ken-nedy. I drove down to Oregon and followed the second-last primary as he strove for the Democrat presidential nomination. He won me over.

A week later, as my wife and I watched that fateful night’s speech at a Los Angeles hotel, she said she was going to bed. “The Americans are crazy. They killed his brother, and they killed Martin Luther King. They’ll kill him.” Two hours later, I woke her. She was right.

My life is a collection of memories.