By Jo Manning
I remember a trout stream long ago, and watching my father fly fish. I was very small and had no idea why we were here. I loved my father, and accepted his decisions. I didn’t know he was trying to re-live his youth, to heal his mind, to find his way forward through the nightmares that haunted him.
I remember the trout stream, a vivid memory because it was so sweet to wait on the banks while he tossed the line, over and over again. I heard birds, and smelled wild flowers and the green fresh grass. And he caught a fish! I know, because we had it for dinner at the hotel where we were staying. I remember how good it tasted, fresh from the stream.
It was a lovely time, that year he took me away from my mother. We walked and fished, drinking in the freshness of summer. He made friends with the school-mistress, a lovely young woman who taught in a one-room school. When school began in the fall she made a spot for me. I was four. I had a slate and a pencil for it, and a little red primer with wonderful stories of “Chicken Little — the Sky is falling, the Sky is falling!”— and “The Little Red Hen”, that I learned to read. I was so happy, I will always remember how happy I was, we were.
But there was a shadow. He had come here to make a decision on our future. As we walked in the woods, he thought about what he should do, and where, and how?
His youth had been taken from him by WW1. Before the war He had been a successful surgeon in a trendy three doctor clinic. He went to war with patriotic idealism, which deserted him in the horror of the trenches, where he treated, as best he could, the wounded and dying, with the battle noise, the screams of the men, the mud and rats, and the blood, everywhere blood.
He was a casualty too. His mind snapped; twice he was hospitalized and treated as a coward. He bore this stigma all his life. No one knew then of the consequences of enduring that hell and surviving. It took great courage to be alive, to keep on living, with a wounded mind.
These few months in Ontario helped him heal, to heal enough at least to regain some of his life that had been taken away. The stream lapping the river-bank as it swirled and eddied on its way, the countryside of hills and valleys meant for roaming, and the friendly country people, strengthened him enough to return to healing others once more, even though he could never again hold a surgeon’s knife.
It took a long time to understand my father. It was only in recent years, with the anniversary of that terrible war in the news, that I saw pictures of the trenches, and heard stories of the battles from the survivors, and finally understood why we two were there in the sunshine and loveliness and how that year helped my father to heal.