“Harry has disappeared,” mother said.
The hesitation in her voice and tiny quiver in her lower lip telegraphed her fear to me. I had never seen or heard of mother showing fear.
Mother, the British WAAC, had laughed and cracked jokes in the underground shelter as enemy bombs burst outside. Mother had used her fists to drive off a dockyard worker who had dared to assault her. Mother, care-giver to a mentally ill husband, had disarmed him when he became violent. Only now did I see her showing fear; her oldest son had disappeared.
Friends had taken us on the hour-long drive from our farm near Galahad, Alberta, to Hardisty Lake so we could spend two weeks in a cabin. They would return for us at the end of our short vacation. With my dad, Harry Wiseman, in the hospital and income strictly limited, mother had pinched pennies to afford this time away with her two teenage boys and their little sister.
What do two teens do at a lonely lake for two weeks? As the younger of the teenagers, I essentially followed my brother, Harry Junior, around. We found no one else our age, male or female. Harry hadn’t brought his rifle, so he couldn’t even go hunting for gophers or crows. We watched birds, walked in the woods, picked Saskatoon berries, splashed in the lake and wished we had stayed home.
Near the end of the week, Harry disappeared. Before nightfall, mother sent for the police. She explained that Harry had never done anything foolish; she could always depend on him, so she could not imagine what had happened. “No officer, my Harry would never run away,” she said.
Remembering our boredom, I wondered if he had done exactly that. I got to ride around in the police car as we checked the nearby roads. No sign of Harry. “I can’t believe he has gone anywhere,” mother told the policeman. “But if he did, he would go home.”
The next day the police car headed for Galahad. When they didn’t find Harry at the farm they visited the neighbours, saying that Harry Wiseman had vanished. They asked the family who lived on the neighbouring farm, the Reg Stovers, to take him under their wings if he showed up and let the police know. Reg later told us how a chill went up his spine. He had known about my dad’s sometimes violent moments and assumed that Harry Wiseman senior had “escaped” from the mental hospital at Ponoka.
In fact, Harry Junior had walked the 40 miles back to the farm. The police eventually found him and brought him back. Mother’s fear turned to relief, then to anger.
Her anger soon dwindled. She must have understood that she had not been sensitive to his needs. During the next few years when she made major decisions, she put her children’s needs or wants above her own.
That incident, when I lost my big brother and found him again, occurred over 60 years ago. Thirty-one years back I lost him again when a heart defect took him much too soon. As I recounted this incident, I pondered on the importance of family and the value in having brothers and sisters.
My eyes became moist. I miss my big brother.