Sometimes the best stories are right in front of you; the bus driver you see every morning, the man having a road rage fit on the DVP or your neighbor with all the cats – but you’ll never get a chance to hear their stories if you don’t stop to ask. It’s a lesson I wish I had learned before my grandfather passed away.
I have a few very specific memories of my granddad, John Drewery. The mustache he always twirled between his fingers. His slick poker skills. His loyal but grumpy dog Clarence. His deep, gravelly voice. His big dreams for his only granddaughter. He wanted me to be an all-star golfer – until I took my first swing.
But the older I get the more I learn about this amazing man, a man that was so much more than just these few quiet, domestic memories. As I was soon to discover, he had a library full of stories from his adventures and I never once stopped to ask him to tell me one.
It was at his standing-room only funeral in 2002, when I started to realize how much of an impact my grandfather had on people – from all sorts of careers, all across the country. I wanted learn more about this man I suddenly felt like I hardly knew. Thank God for Google.
I began to discover my grandfather’s adventures and escapades in letters to the editor, references in books, newspaper articles and YouTube footage. I was finally meeting the man who was so much more than just my grandfather; he was a soldier, a friend, a news junkie and a mentor.
For starters he was a bomb aimer for the #101 Canadian Squadron in the Lancaster fleet in World War II. It wasn’t something he talked about very much, or even at all. In fact, in the family it was an unspoken rule to never discuss his time as a soldier.
A few short years before he died we saw a glimpse of the real scars the War had left on my grandfather. My dad had tried to buy him a seat in the only flying Lancaster still in existence. When he asked my granddad about it, he responded “absolutely not, I will never step foot into that plane again,” and that was that.
Having now read several obituaries about John, I discovered his heroic acts overseas earned him a Distinguished Flying Cross. Now, thinking back on those quiet rainy days spent at his farm in PEI learning how to play chess, I wish I had asked him about his crew or his medal.
Upon his return to Canada, John began pursuing his career as a journalist at the CBC – he was a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa and acted as a foreign correspondent. Then, in 1977, he became the lead anchor of the CBC “Supper Hour” in Saskatoon.
I know from my dad (and his inherited traits) that John was a charismatic man, smart and smooth and a hell of a talker – he could charm his way into political dinners, newsroom deals and hockey tickets – many conversations of which took place at the famous National Press Club in Ottawa.
But, as it turns out, he wasn’t just a ladies man; at his core he was actually a bit of a feminist. In 1967 Gail Scott was hired by the CBC as its first female reporter – with insistence from my granddad, as he strongly believed it was high time women joined the male dominated world of journalism.
John Drewery passed away 12 years ago and he continues to impress me. Unfortunately I’m meeting him through third parties – through scattered accounts of the man he was. I missed out on those magical moments, staying up late into the night with him to hear the first-hand account of a Lancaster crewmember or the juicy scotch-soaked details of being a foreign correspondent in the 1960s.
Somehow, even without ever asking for his journalistic words of wisdom, John still taught me everything you need to know about storytelling. Keep your ears and eyes open and always be curious. A good story is like dust in the wind – if you don’t reach out to grab it, you might miss it all together.