I noticed, I spoke, and the world froze. I may have been on 6 or 7 when I noticed that my father's legs were not the same. One of them had a huge bite taken out of it. Though it was all healed, one could see the jagged wound that it had once been. 'Hey Dad,' I called out, 'What happened to your leg?'
Both my Mother and my Grandmother shushed me and pulled me away from Dad. Even though they were quick, I saw the dark clouds form behind my father's eyes. I was shocked, he was an easy man, not quick to judgement, not quick to temper. But I had done something, asked something, that was never to be spoken of, ever.
Later, as I learned in school about war, as I stood at the Cenotaphs with a poppy on my lapel, I remembered my father's leg. I knew he had been in the war, not from him, but from others in the family. Dad, he didn't talk much about his past, it was like his minute of silence had become a lifetime rememberance.
One day he and I were alone at home. I was an odd and ungainly child, a wee bit hard to take pride in, but my father and I had an uneasy peace. I asked him that day to tell me about the war. To my surprise he did. He spoke in quiet words about his work as a stretcher bearer, about his wounding just before Christmas day, he named countries he'd been in but never visited, he spoke of people who's names were still precious to him. He didn't talk long. My dad doesn't take long to say what he has to say.
I wonder, I suppose like most do of Dad's and Mom's who survived the war. Who would Dad have been if he had lived unwounded by a sniper's bullet? How would he live if he had dreams free of the horrors he'd seen. The cost was more that a leg that looked like it had been bitten.
The cost was a lifetime of silence, a lifetime of keeping secret, the story. He fought to protect his country, he keeps silent to protect us.
It's not hard to truly love those who keep the silence, even when the memory still hurt.