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.
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.)
This is my grandfather, Ronald McNeill Keirstead.