Book Hippo

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Everyday Hero

All is fresh outside today. We had a big thunderstorm last evening and now it's nice out. I think it won't last, we're due for rain all this week. I'm so glad that I'm in my apartment, so cozy.

It makes me think about all the people in the past who weren't so cozy and comfortable in the rain. Like soldiers of the first and second world wars who had to stay outside in the rain and fight and maybe die.

My grandfather was a soldier in WWI. He fought at Salonika which is a little reported battle. He never talked about it, except to say that he hated mules. The officers treated the mules better than the enlisted men, he used to say, and that was all he said.

I think some day I'd like to go to Salonika and see what it would have been like for my grandfather and the others who fought with him. It was his downfall in a way because he was bitten by a mosquitoe and contracted malaria. This weakened his heart. After the war his doctor told him that if he wanted to live, he had to move to either Alberta, Canada or Australia. As he had relatives in Alberta, he went there on a Soldiers Settlement, which meant he got free farmland.

One day him and granny came home to find the horses had broken into their house and were eating their straw mattress. They gave up farming and grandpa went to work for the railway as a Section Foreman.

I don't know when the decision came to leave Alberta and go to BC, maybe he didn't care anymore that he would die young if he did, but they ran a boarding house in Vancouver and he worked as a steward on the ships that go up the coast of BC, making extra money by playing the piano for the crowds. None of this was good for his heart and he died at about 74 years old. I miss him still.

But strangely, when I think of him, it's not as the man I knew but as the soldier I've only seen photos of. Fighting in the rain. Covered with lice. Drilling. This terrible part of his life which changed him in so many ways. Even when hunting for meat in Alberta, he would never actually shoot anything but hand his rifle over to his friend. After the war, he couldn't bring himself to kill. The war made him gentle. It gave him nightmares. It was something he had to survive every day for the rest of his life.

It made him an everyday hero.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Historically Voiceless

I love to read a good history book. My favorite characters in history are often ones whose names I can't even remember. Everyone knows that the winners write history so there are many people in history who don't have a voice.

Now if I were to say that white people going to the American southwest were not the first there you would automatically assume that I meant the Apaches were there first. Well, they were but there were others. Namely, black people who had escaped slavery. Many of them found their way into places where there were no white people. Some lived in Apacheria.

So little is known about these people that no one can tell you if they lived in groups or as loners wandering around. They probably lived by hunting, perhaps trading with the Mexicans and Apaches. Whatever happened to them is also not told.

All through American history you will find black individuals who escaped and were accepted by natives. One group of whites went to treat with a Sioux tribe and found themselves face to face with a black man in full Native dress. There was no taking him back to slavery, the whole tribe backed him.

Some blacks even became Chiefs and fought with distinction.

Another group of the voiceless were women. Again, the American west was the place where they stepped out of their roles and became themselves. One women took to dressing in animals skins, showing quite a bit of leg, mind you and rode like a man. Riding her horse by one general, I think Sherman, he remarked, "What was that?" So unlike a woman of the times was she.

Her name I can't remember but I would surely like to know what she thought about and how she came to live the way she did. She fought with men when she felt like it.

Not just white women were voiceless parts of history. An Apache tribe had a woman leader, a very wise woman, by all accounts, who kept them peaceful and non-combatant and counseled them how to get along with the whites and how to  make good. I have never read what became of this tribe. Whether they veered from that path after she died and now live the terrible life of a modern Apache, or whether they became productive people, at home with the system.

The last person I will mention is an Englishman, again in Apacheria. He went to the USA and found native life congenial, so one could find him living with a tribe and wearing native dress, happily hunting and doing whatever his tribe was up to. Six months later, one could find him in Tombstone, Arizona with his best white person clothes on, dining in a saloon and living 'American'. He went back and forth, however his fancy took him.

Someday I'm going to write about one of these people. At least I promise myself I will. They are fascinating, the thing that keeps me going back to history books. Humans are so interesting but for me, these faceless, nameless men and women make history a living thing.