My maternal grandfather, Stavely Erskine Johns (usually called 'Johno',) died when I was about two years old. I'm told he held me and sang to me as baby, and although I don't remember him personally, I do have a special childhood memory which connected me to him, a memory from when I was maybe three or four years old, a memory which I never understood until nearly fifty years later - a memory of mysterious brass objects - slightly tapered brass cylinders, open at one end, heavily closed at t'other.
Grand-pa served in both world wars - he retired a Major, and I still have his Major's crowns carefully stored to this day. And the mysterious brass objects in question were empty shell casings - of various sizes, arranged neatly in a row on grand-ma's mantel-piece - from big ones inches in diameter, down through some an inch or so, to the smallest .303 shells. Not that I had the faintest idea what these mysterious brass objects were, nor understood the secret symbols and codes imprinted on their base.
Grand-ma lived in Melbourne, and we lived in Perth. I can only vaguely remember her from our occasional visits before she died when I was about four. But what I do remember with great clarity and reverence were those mysterious brass cylinders.
I don't know how or why, but somehow these mysterious brass mementos were important to me, and I was allowed to hold them, not to bang and throw and play with as toys - no no - just the opposite. I would hold these casings lovingly in my arms and clean them and polish them with Brasso till they gleamed like gold.
I had never understood their importance - they were just a strange childhood memory. But now, nearly fifty years later, as I follow that growing urge to connect to my ancestors, I finally understand - I was holding them like a baby in my arms, and caring for them just as he had done for me.
Thank you grand-pa Johno.