Knocked around by the Wind

Gregory Dekter

This is a memory that I hold very dear. It was several weeks after word came that George had died. I was sixteen. Mother and I discovered we’d had the same dream, both of us, on the evening of August fourth. Neither knew the other had had the dream at the time; we had not talked about it, of course, because that would be to admit we felt George was in danger. But I remember that mother described something already familiar to me, and although I do not remember the details of her words I can picture her description and my own, and in my memory they feel the same. My dream as I remember it was this: George was in his plane, flying level with whatever my vantage. I could see him clearly and I could hear him. He said he was sorry, that he would not be coming home; he’d been called up. He said he loved me and encouraged me to be obedient and to work hard. And then said goodbye, and the plane flew out of sight.

But that says nothing of my brother, really. If that was my imagination. George was born May sixteenth, nineteen twenty, to Katherine and George Sr., both about thirty years old. George Sr. at the time of his son’s birth was a successful salesman for Imperial Varnish and Paint. When I was born he was sales manager for their nation-wide operations. In nineteen thirty-four George left Imperial Varnish and along with his brothers, Charles and Wesley, founded Acme Paint and Varnish, Ltd. They later brought out a new product called Hippo Oil which I think was a forerunner to Varathane. They were also early on the market with latex paint, which was useful because it could be cleaned up with water.

When finances collapsed in twenty-nine and the prairies dried up without rain and winds blew the earth to furrows, the business still prospered because people who wanted to move but couldn’t instead chose to paint what they had. When men were in soup lines or catching the rails to find a day’s work anywhere, dad was travelling to Molly’s Cove and St. John’s to sell the new longlife Acme Paint. At a time when peddlers came to our door begging food (which was always obliged), dad was so successful that we had a car, a nineteen ten Hupmobile. By the time I was five we had a Buick. We had a telephone with an extension on the second floor.

In the summers the family would spend time up in Algonquin or Georgian Bay, where mother would have George look after me whenever she did something that took concentration. When I was very young I remember him wheeling me around in one of those wicker prams. He apparently went fast and took corners recklessly. Nevertheless I was safe with him, and he would take me out. I remember once I was about nine, at Bolger Lake where my Grandfather owned an extensive parcel of shorefront. George had his pal Cliff Mallet with him and I begged them to take me along. They told me I wasn’t strong enough or big enough to cross the falls, or wade the swamps. I persisted, and by some miracle they relented and I could go! I was on my best behavior. I crossed the top of the falls, I waded through the swamplands, I kept up with them, though I had to run for most of it. We came at last upon an abandoned post office along the rail line which, when logging had gone on in the area, would have served as a busy meeting point. But now it was long abandoned. I remember George had me by the hand and we were investigating the desks where they used to sort the mail. I remember seeing a little room behind the open top of a Dutch door, and the inside seemed like wooden honeycombs. Grandfather used to keep an apiary and I loved everything about bees. That of course was where they kept the mail until the recipient arrived to pick it up. We went to open the bottom part of the door and inside found an angry porcupine. Somebody said be careful because porcupines throw their needles. I didn’t know, I’d never seen a porcupine before. George found a timber and approached the animal touching it gently. In a moment the timber was full of quills.

Right after George was killed, father took mother and me to the Linger Long Resort, which was owned by the MacRaes of Parry Sound, and was intended, in happier times, for hunting and fishing. The MacRaes had three boys, Bill, Dougald, and Jim, and three married girls. The brothers Bill and Dougie were in the Services, while Jim was at home helping his parents run the resort. Mother and dad had become good friends with the MacRaes in previous summers, probably at least in part because both families had sons in danger. Dad took George’s death very hard and felt the Lodge was a safe place to mourn. I remember that when we arrived we heard that Dougie MacRae in the Air Force had been killed the same night as George, August fourth nineteen forty-four. We later found out they were in the same squadron in Brindisi and flew out, unaware of each other’s involvement, as two of the five planes on that fatal mission. They had been unable to tell their parents where they were because it was a secret squadron, and we only found out later, long after the war. So dad spent that fall and winter at the Linger Long Resort, and stayed well into the following summer, as the two fathers tried to understand their loss.

The fact that mother and I shared that dream of George, or at least parts of it, never felt odd to me. It was not painful watching him go, it was a relief, and that is why it remains a fond memory. Where other sisters, or parents like Mr. MacRae, found their brothers and sons dead by a telegram, mother and I witnessed George ascend safely out of harm. I know it was a dream, but it was also very real. For that reason I have never forgotten it.