A couple of weeks ago I posted in Playing with Mum, a picture from the mid-1950s of my mother and me having fun together. This picture from the same era, maybe a year or two earlier, is of my Dad playing on the beach with me. It would have been the beach at Ingoldmells in Lincolnshire on the east coast of England. I know that because that's where we went for a week or two every summer. That's the only place we ever went to the beach in those days.
My father would have been in his early 30s in this picture. He must have thought he had it made. A wife, two children, good health, a steady job with a pension, large circle of friends and extended family living in the same town (the town where he was born), a home (rented), and a chance to get away to the seaside every summer to play with his kids on the beach. I don't think he ever really wished for much more.
There are pictures somewhere of me playing with my own kids on a beach in Brittany at about that age. Life doesn't change much. Or does it?
My father's early adult life was dramatically different from mine. He was part of the "greatest generation." His 18th birthday was exactly one week before Hitler's tanks rolled into Poland. Not long afterwards he was in the Royal Air Force, and he wasn't demobilized until 1946. So he basically spent all the years from when he was 18 to 25 years old serving in World War 2.
18 to 25! I try to avoid referring to any years as the "best years of my life" but if I had to choose one period it might well be those years when I was 18 to 25. Leaving home and going to college. Making so many new friends. Having so many new experiences. Starting one career and then changing to another. Meeting my future wife and marrying her. (Actually Dad did manage to fit that part in towards the end of the war.) Traveling all over France with a college buddy one summer (without having to storm the beaches of Normandy first.) Spending another summer with my then girlfriend hiking in the Austrian Alps. (Not exactly an option for my parents in the summer of 1945.)
I often feel that those years were "stolen" from my parents. But I don't think they saw things that way. They, and all their generation, just did what needed to be done. The world would have been a very different place for my generation if they hadn't succeeded. Mum and Dad's most vivid memories in later years were certainly from the years of "the war." It was always "the war" for them. As if there hadn't been any other wars before or since. I guess wars do that to people.
This Memorial Day weekend my sons, my father's grandsons, have been the Dads playing on the beach with their own children, my father's American great grandchildren whom he never lived to see.
The play goes on.