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Perhaps a Hero
    I was watching the BBC World News tonight, and the newscaster mentioned that the Queen had taken part in a ceremony that commemorated the Royal Air Force's 90th anniversary. I suddenly remembered my maternal grandfather, Ronald McNeill Keirstead.
    I grew up in the house of my grandfather and my grandmother, Margaret Barss Stackhouse Keirstead. My grandfather was a magnetic and central force in my life.   
My grandmother cared for our hearts and bodies, nurtured our spirits; our mother did the same, and added a direct and solid immediacy to our understanding of love. But our grandfather was the person who introduced something fierce and perhaps wild to our lives. We didn't recognize that at the time; in fact, I'm only recognizing it as I write this, but it's true. And I don't think it's a bad thing.
    He doted on my brother and me, when we were young, and we practically worshiped him. That changed as we grew up and developed wills of our own - he was a strong willed man, who didn't brook opposition. The change was often unhappy, but it didn't, and doesn't, negate the strength of the love we - everyone in the family, frankly - felt for him, despite the tension between love and resistance in our home.
    Growing up with grandparents who were born in 1895 and 1902 gave us great gifts, and one was the multiplicity of bridges to the past to which we had access. My grandmother's bridges led us to marvelous places. My grandfather's bridges almost always led us to a war that today is nothing but stories in history books for most people younger than me.
    I remember him telling us stories of flying in World War I, talking about the differences between Belgian farm fields and French farm fields, telling us how he would drop shrapnel bombs by hand over the side of his plane. Even before my conscious memories of those conversations, I remember my brother and I looking at, and trying (occasionally with success) to play with the empty shell of one of those bombs, and with a stuffed toy monkey that he'd brought back from someplace - Britain? France? Both of them were kept in the den, behind the glass front of a bookcase, but they were part of our lives, as his stories were.   
    I know much more about him now than I knew about him growing up; a function of my becoming an adult and talking to my mother about him. Everything that I learned - his youth, his time in uniform during World War I, his time as a sometime major supply operative in the Canadian and British Empire war effort - is a bridge back to him for me.
    I know from the stories I've learned that he was attractive to women and admired by men, He had a force of personality that made the outer world hold him in great esteem. None of that surprises me, having grown up with him. (I also learned that he could stare down dockworkers who were threatening not to load war supplies on ships - with a length of pipe in his hand - and make them go back to work. Even a union maid can respect that kind of raw courage.)
   But it's only in the last few years that I realized that the stories he told my brother and I about flying above Belgian or French fields, weren't just a personal memory, or some vague fairy-tale of the family's. There was proof of what my grandfather did.
    This is my grandfather, Ronald McNeill Keirstead.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 12th, 2008 12:11 pm (UTC)
Hooray for good grandparents!

Mine have also been instrumental in my life. Not many of my peers can say the same, though now younger generations are being raised entirely by grandparents alone.

In a healthy family that resistance and tension of kids forming their own opinions and expressing them grows out of that love and support.

For me my grandfather was all the more important to me because my father was not around and my step father and I took a long long time to learn to get along and figure out our relationship, which doesn't mean their weren't always good things about having him around but my grandfather was always there and we had established a close relationship that persists today.
Jul. 12th, 2008 03:18 pm (UTC)
Re: neat!
It's good to know someone else who had a close relationshp with that generation of their family. I think kids today (wow, that makes me sound old) really miss that. So many of them have grandparents in other locations (city/state/whatever). And the kids who end up being raised entirely by grandparents probably wouldn't be able to see them outside of the parental role.
Jul. 13th, 2008 12:06 pm (UTC)
Re: neat!
I also liked having grandparents around as more kinds of adults to see in action, as it were. Especially when you're a kid, having adults who love you can be pretty important.

What a great story, K.
Jul. 13th, 2008 06:03 pm (UTC)
Re: neat!
Thanks - I think probably every family has amazing stories in them, if their members look with clear eyes. Mine just seemed to have them close to the surface, and my obliviousness (which I'm relatively certain is a word) was simply the result of youth.
Jul. 12th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
I think it wonderful to find glowing mention of someone you love so much. All thought the site only touches on his service record, it is a good record.

My father spent a large part of my childhood in hospital so my grandfather provided the love, comfort and support I needed.
Jul. 12th, 2008 04:52 pm (UTC)
After hearing all the stories in my youth, it was wonderful to see the reality of those stories, and to spy another facet of a very complicated man. I'm sorry your father had to spend so much time in hospital, and I'm very glad you had your grandfather.
Apr. 9th, 2009 07:44 pm (UTC)
Ronald McNeill Keirstead
It is very freaky reading your profile, and this entry and realising that you and I are second cousins. My paternal grandmother was Mary Francis Keirstead, your grandfather's sister. I don't know too many of my Keirstead relatives, although when I was a child a rather dashing airman named John(?) Keirstead would visit us in Winnipeg - that would have been in the sixties...

I am a trade unionist, lawyer, anti-establishment former hippie chick who loves to drive, can't sing but comes from a family of journalists, actors and amateur musicians. I think we have stuff in common...

Write me if you are curious :catharinerogers@sympatico.ca
Apr. 9th, 2009 10:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Ronald McNeill Keirstead
I believe we do share family, and I shall email you. (You're Uncle Alan's daughter, aren't you?)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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