GENERAL ARTICLES

How It Feels To Be Home

After five years away a soldier looks critically at his Canada and his fellow Canadians and finds them good

COL. RICHARD S. MALONE July 1 1945
GENERAL ARTICLES

How It Feels To Be Home

After five years away a soldier looks critically at his Canada and his fellow Canadians and finds them good

COL. RICHARD S. MALONE July 1 1945

How It Feels To Be Home

COL. RICHARD S. MALONE

WELL, HOW does it feel to be home? When you have been asked this question for possibly the ten-thousandth time during t he first 10 days of your homecoming and by every person you happen to meet, you tend to get a little resentful. The first few times you murmur something like “swell” or “pretty good.” But after that you begin to wonder what on earth they expect you to nay, knowing that you are seeing your real home again for the first time in five years. Surely they must realize it is impossible to show a chart of all your emotions, or attempt to describe the queer feelings that have suddenly become all mixed up inside you.

If you are wise you just keep grinning like an ape and continue murmuring “great.” When you think about it, the reason that prompts this question is that these people are simply darn glad to see you buck again, and once this is realized it really is “great ” to have so many people glad to see you again.

After moving from one country to anotherout to Sicily and Italy, then France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and back to England for seven days’ leave —well, you didn’t,think the actual move back to Canada would l>e any great novelty. Brother, don’t kid yourself. You may be sufficiently hard-boiled for t he first few days of the trip not to notice any reaction, but you can rest assured that once Canada is within reach you are in for a bigger lift than running over one of Jerry’s double Teller mines. It is like an impossible dream, in the hack of your head for years, suddenly coming true.

Everything looks good, at least till the novelty of the first few days wears off. Seeing one of the old ”400” class engines hitched onto the train, listening to the full-throated roar of its whistle instead of the accustomed soprano warble of the Continent, looking out the train window and seeing miles of the old snakt? fences, cedar trees and rural mailboxes, billboards advertising Coca Cola and Sweet Caps each is a separate thrill of its own.

Your first meal in a Canadian restaurant again is a novelty and everyone speaking Canadian in the restaurant is something to marvel at. You check in at your local district depot quite prepared for a little offhand treatment at the hands of an office staff who have been silting there on their backsides for the past six years. The sight of a few overseas patches, wound stripes and service ribbons scattered here and there throughout the staff changes that, notion. It is a pleasant surprise? to find that they have all this paper nonsense pretty well taped to make it as painless as possible.

To walk the streets of your old home town again is an experience in itself. There are a few changes here and there, but on the whole everything seems to be going on just the same as it

always did. You reflect on this for a moment. It is nothing to be annoyed about; in fact, isn’t that just as it should he and what you would wish? After all, wasn’t it just for that reason that you got into this scrap so we could continue to go about our business the way we want to in Canada? And isn’t it a blessing the old home town could keep ticking along as usual, rather than getting all twisted about like countries you have seen for the past few yearsqueueing up for food shops— jamming into air raid shelters—wearing hits of wood and old tires on their feet instead of shoes?

The people seem to be dashing about in a hurry, all intent on their own immediate business. Well, what a godsend that they are able to, and there is more than a little satisfaction, when you think of it, that your job of the past few years has helped mako it possible for “business as usual” at home. That is how it should be, and you wouldn’t want it any different. When you suddenly spot a red or blue shoulder patch on the street again it is like seeing a long-lost brother. Chances are that you never ran into the mug overseas, hut there is no mistaking the fact that his smile of greeting and “hiya” as you passed carried more than the normal share of understanding and warmth.

But what about those other uniforms you see here and t here, singularly void of service stripes and patches? Guess those are the home defense hoy8, you say to yourself. For the second time you find yourself feeling just a little resentful. Surprising how young some of them seem. Then it dawns on you. More than a fair percentage of them are youngsters just out of high school. No sense getting mad at them, one of them might even he your kid brother, and you are just as thankful that the job was pretty well cleaned up before they had to get mixed up in the filth also.

They Know There’s a War On

ALL IN all, life seems pretty easy for the L people at home—at least, that is your first impression. Plenty of milk to drink, eggs galore, fresh meat all the time, ice cream and so on. Then you try to buy some petrol—excuse me, gas—for the old jalopy, or a jug of heather dew, and you find that these things are closed up pretty tight.

Some very knowing person assures you that the majority of Canadians have never even heard about the war, and you think over this profound statement for a minute. That night, when you get round to phoning the widow of your pal that copped it around Caen, you find that she knew something about the war. And you’ll be surprised to find, when you dig into it, just how many wives, mothers, fathers and relatives there are about thecountry who have had five long years of worry, and all the time kept plugging away overtime on their jobs. Trying to keep a home together, and work double shift in the role of hoth father and mother, has been a very long haul for many Canadian girls.

You find that even old Uncle John, who used to send you cigarettes regularly, has done all manner of jobs as his part in the show. He has been packing Red Cross parcels two nights a week on a voluntary basis, canvassing for the Victory Loan after office hours, giving blood donations regularly and taking on the job as scoutmaster at the neighborhood Sunday school. Yes, even Uncle John, in his queer

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After five years away a soldier looks critically at his Canada and his fellow Canadians and finds them good

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way, knew there was a war on, and has done his share to keep things on a basis of “business as usual.”

And what about these quantities of eggs and fresh milk? When you learn that the old Dominion is sending overseas, and has sent for a good few years, nearly all the foodstuffs that Allied shipping could cope with, it can hardly be called an iniquity. And anyway, isn’t it a good thing that our farmers, even with an acute shortage of labor, have been able not only to ship tons of food overseas but have maintained a decent food level at home. Certainly we \yould have real cause for anger if we came home and found our kids had been living on limited doses of powdered miPfejand had been forced to eat Board o,. .P'rade sausages the English kids have put up with, not to think of those starving little beggars you saw in Italy and Holland.

No, despite your wise friend, you are just as glad to find the food situation as it is when you know that all the food possible is being shipped abroad. Fact is, you take a certain pride in the knowledge that the country has worked the deal out so well, and at the same time kept food prices at a pretty normal level. When there were shortages they didn’t waste a minute cracking down with rationing. When you heard over the radio Sunday night that sugar stocks were getting low, you were glad to note that the food control boys slapped on a ration cut Monday morning-no advance warning and no delay to allow any hanky-panky about letting hoarders stock up.

When the excitement of the first few days has worn off you will get round to the time when you have five minutes for quiet thought. Then you find yourself asking yourself the same fool question: “What does it feel like to be home?” You start to take stock.

Some things are different, no question about that, and you think over a

few small points that do get under the skin. There was the time when you got into civvies and ran into that civilian “master mind’’ down at the barbershop. He, who had never been in battle dress in his life, told you all about the war, and expounded his half-baked theories on tactics and world strategy. Yes, the old bird was talking through his hat. But why let that steam you up? He was too old to get overseas anyway, and why shouldn’t he be allowed to have a few cockeyed notions if he wants them? It’s a free world, and most likely you couldn’t enlighten the old coot if you did take the time. Come to think of it, you have heard just as cockeyed orations in English pubs of a Saturday night; so give over. That’s not worth getting heated up about.

But, then, even general topics of conversation sometimes get you in a lather. You were resentful, for some strange reason, when you listened to three men hold forth for an hour on the opening of the golf season, on how the trout were biting this, season and where they were going for their summer holidays. Your mother seemed most concerned that the lawn mower needed fixing and whether she could get a man to paint the roof. These were all slightly strange and seemingly petty topics to you. At the same time, you may have noticed that they in turn seemed more than a little vague when you started talking about your “48” back in Sussex, the NAAFI issue, compo and M&V. They didn’t seem to have the slightest idea what you meant by an L.C.A., a “Weasel” or a “Kangaroo.” Even an “88” or a “Moaning Minnie” were foreign words to them.

You suddenly come to the realization that you and they have been living in entirely different worlds. But why should that make you resentful? They have had their own lives to live while you were away, and why shouldn’t they still be concerned about the lawn mower and the local golf course? Your queer life Ls the one that has to undergo an overhaul, not theirs. When this dawns on you everything starts to appear in a new light. They aren’t the ones who are wrong, it is you who are just a little hit out of step with the life back here. It is hard to realize this, although we have been civilians before. We now have to change completely our outlook once more to fit into the civilian glove again. The change is just as real as when we started living in barracks and paraded for the first time. “Crocodiles” and Calvados belong to a totally different life, so don’t expect your Aunt Matilda and the other civvies to be interested in such foreign talk.

Another thing you must become accustomed to is that people back here have aged five years also. Don’t be surprised to learn that little Mary | McSnook, who lived down the street, 1 isn’t running around licking ice cream cones on the way home from school any j more. No, she isn’t 14 now, she is j nearly 20, and a full-grown young lady, who got married last Christmas. Yes, this is a bit of a shocker, but no more so than when you notice some of the older folk have sprouted a few grey hairs in your absence; so be prepared for this.

The crazy-looking high school kids you notice, with their queer clothes— girls in slacks cut off below the knee, youths with strange headgear and weird coats—are certainly one of the changes, not to mention some of their dizzy dance steps. Well, think back a bit, soldier. What about the hotcha costumes you used to flash when you were that age? Just as silly, I guess, as these seem to us now. Despite the present wave of “rug cutting” and

“swooners” you will find out, if you check into it, that the younger generation haven’t completely gone nuts. They just look a little silly to us when we get home, but don’t forget that we are seeing them through eyes that are five years older now, and that battle dress and Bren guns don’t exactly lend themselves to an understanding of these things.

True, you will still continue to find the odd person at home who thinks that now the war in Europe is over we should immediately wash our hands of those strange countries abroad. There are some who still think that it is none of our business as to how they clean up the mess over there and that we should keep entirely clear.

And then there are still lots of birds wandering about yapping all the time over some local political squabble, and damning up and down all the provinces of the Dominion except their own. There are still some pretty selfish ideas throughout the country and they aren’t all concentrated in one section of the Dominion, either. No sense getting a chip on your shoulder over that, however. This isn’t a strange new development in Canada, just a hangover of an old problem. And it’s as much our problem as anyone’s when we get home. Chances are, if we go at it in the right way, we may be able to do more than those now at home in working out some of these worries in the next few years. Being able to look at Canada from a distance for a few years had at least the advantage of letting us see our own country in a much broader picture and observe how it measured up with other parts of the world.

To Sum It Up

YOU WILL find, when you come to the end of your quiet little think period, that you may sum things up as follows:

The country still has done an allround war job that we can be pretty proud about;

The home life is a little hard getting used to all of a sudden;

People’s daily interests back here are miles apart from our daily concerns of the past. It is our way of living that has to be changed if we are to get back into step again quickly, not theirs; The Canadian way of life, which we

fought for among other things, is still j intact. The fishing, swimming, golf, | shooting, hockey and hot-dog stands ¡ haven’t disappeared;

The school kids are still writing t heir matric exams each spring. They can’t pinch their old man’s car of a Saturday night, it’s true, because there ain’t no petrol, but they get to the dances just the same;

The country’s darn short on liquor j and a little tight on bacon and sugar, j but otherwise the grub is grand.

In the humble opinion of this writer, I Canada’s two main worries in the j immediate postwar period are, first, to i get a lot of homes built in a hurry, to take care of a considerable present shortage and, secondly, to find fast ¡ and satisfactory employment sufficient i to provide for men coming home and ! those now employed in war plants. The j employment worry may take a little ! time to solve properly, as it will mean the starting from scratch in a lot of new j developments in many fields. The j house building worry, if handled proj perly, should be a short-term propoj sition, as materials should become j available fast and there will soon be no question of finding labor.

All this still hasn’t answered the question: “How does it feel to get home?” But my advice is: Go it gently, be a little tolerant, be prepared to start thinking of lawn mowers again, don’t be slow to realize that you are the one that is a little bit ox/t of step with things on civvy street, and it’s up to you to pick up the gait, understand that Canada still has a few domestic problems to work out which are partly our responsibility, and, soldier, I think you will find as I did: that the country is still pretty swell, the people are pretty swell, the food is swell, and it feels j pretty SWELL to be home.

And now my eight-year-old nephew has to be taken to see Roy Rogers, a cowboy whom I never heard of before, but who apparently is no small potato with the young fry in these parts. In my day it was Tom Mix and Buck Jones. Not that I am interested in this newfangled Roy Rogers in any way, as he can’t be up to Tom Mix, but I am sure going to find out something about this modern idol of the back-yard bandits, and not be classed as one of those old birds who still talk of Bren guns when Superman and the boys now wipe out whole armies with ray guns.