Like the rest of the world, I have fallen in love. Hard. With “Downton Abbey”. “Obsessed” is probably not too strong a word.
Sure, I love the fabulous costumes. The gorgeous settings (Highclere Castle is now a Destination for the Devoted). The wonderful ensemble cast (though I fear the next season appearance of the dreaded Shirley MacLaine, who has not yet learned to be more than mediocre or less than tiresome despite her multiple lives). The scandals and melodramas.
It is the Suzy-est thing EVAR.
But watching Season Two and the Christmas Special made me think less about these frivolous (yet delightful) things, and more about my grandfathers, Ernest and Ernest.
Ernest Victor, named for the Queen, was born in 1893 in Southwark. It was, and remains, a not-lovely part of London. It was bombed heavily during WWII – the war both my Ernest grandfathers fought in not turning out to be as advertised “The War to End All Wars” – and when I went to visit the site of his birth in 1993, the only thing left of that century was the long disused railroad stable, with the fading painted sign on the brickwork.
I only learned afterwards that the day I chose to go – and my father to accompany me, despite his lack of interest in geneology – was in fact Ernest Victor’s 100th birthday: October 13, 1993.
And it was much later that I started to piece together things about him that were odd. His mother registered his birth, a month after the fact, in a time when men almost always did these things. He was barely 21 when war broke out and he signed up.
He went to France and saw unimaginable horrors. He was gassed. He suffered from what I now realize was PTSD, called “shell shock” then. It has lately been acknowledged that most, or perhaps all of the painfully young men who were shot at dawn for desertion suffered from what we now call post traumatic stress disorder – the same thing that haunts every day and night of my friend Paul’s life after what he saw and did in the Vietnam War. The same that woke Ernest Raymond, my mother’s father, screaming, just as it does Paul.
I learned that all 306 young men shot at dawn for cowardice were posthumously pardoned – in 2006.
Ernest Victor never spoke to anyone in his family again after he returned from France, other than his sister Elsie, who in turn would become my father’s confidante.
He was a big shot in international banking at Lloyd’s, an incredible achievement for a man of his background. He never once told his only son he loved him. That was, my father said, understood. But my father’s last words to me were, at the end of a routine phone call, “Love you lots.”
Ernest Victor, for all I loved him, is a mystery to me.