Bittersweet

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“Spanish Civil War monument unveiled: Governor-General lauds idealism of members of famed Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion.” —–The Ottawa Citizen Oct. 21, 2001

The letter the postman handed me that long-ago morning was tattered and faded—the writing scarcely legible, yet the name and address were mine.

I knew it was Einar’s writing, the young Finn I’d met before he went to Spain. Was he still alive then, after all this time? My hands shaking, I read the words but they scarcely registered. A jumble of words.

Months had gone by, and I’d never fully given up hope. But eventually I’d had to face reality. Other volunteers, defeated and haggard, had returned home, but not Einar. His parents had received no word. I knew nothing of his friends. And living here in this town so far from everywhere, I had no idea where to look or who to ask. There were no official lists. The government seemed to be treating these men who’d gone to fight Franco as non-persons.

I opened the letter, written from France in October 1938.

Dear Maggie,

We are still here in France. No way to get home. We did all we could, but the war is lost. Germany and Italy gave Franco what help he needed. Britain and France, the United States and Canada, none. We had no chance.
Now we wait. The C.P.R. wants $10,000 to sail us home. 300 of us. A joke! None of us with a cent. If we are still here in three days the French say they will move us to the camps. I feel no hope, but in my head I am home to you.
P.S. I hear talk this morning help may come. A Canadian reporter in London has maybe found some money. A British member of parliament will maybe donate half of what we need,. The reporter hopes someone else the rest.

Much love from me,
Einar
***

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author
Helen Deachman is the author of ‘Letters to Muriel: A Search for Kin'.
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